School flyers buried under a squashed peach in your kid’s backpack. Phone calls to the classroom that ring but are never answered. Keeping the lines of communication open between parents and schools has never been easy, and as new tools proliferate, it’s sometimes even more difficult to know where to go for the latest news. The newsletter? The school website? The curbside in the rain at pickup time?
Hoping to avoid the common frustrations that have long plagued efforts to keep parents informed, school staff throughout the country are turning to new technology to improve parent-school communication.
For instance, School Loop offers a service that lets schools incorporate social-networking-style features into their websites, including a system that lets parents and teachers email each other and multilingual voicemail that can leave translated messages for parents who don’t speak English. School Loop has plenty of proponents, but since it costs money, some schools may be less inclined to buy into it in these cash-strapped times.
Some schools have forged ahead and created their own solutions. Albany High in Albany, Calif., recently launched a new “iPhone-ready” website (to replace an older version hosted by School Loop) that includes a prominent link asking visitors to “follow us on Twitter.”
Indeed, the popular social network, with its 140-character instant messages, may play a prominent role in solving the problem of parent-school communication. Since launching in 2006, Twitter has rapidly attracted a more mainstream audience. As of August 2010, it had registered 96 million unique visitors, surpassing MySpace in popularity to become the second-most-visited social-media site after Facebook.
Given its newness, many schools have only recently started using Twitter and are still experimenting with the service. For example, Albany High’s Twitter posts will be used primarily (at least at first) for a highly practical end: to break news about school emergencies. Several schools, as well as large public school districts in cities such New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have already leaped into the Twitter fray, disseminating real-time updates about school life.
Danny Silva, the technology coordinator at Le Grand High School near Merced, Calif., uses two separate Twitter feeds to promote the school’s events calendar and its daily cafeteria menus. Parents can access the updates on the school’s website or on Twitter itself. An early adopter, Le Grand High has been using the service for a few years, and Silva says the updates have been so successful that he has begun giving presentations about the school’s use of Twitter to school leaders nationwide.
“Parents have found that it’s easy, and so have the students,” says Silva. Though the benefits of using Twitter may be that it’s fast, instant, and easy to adapt to schools’ needs, Silva notes its real advantage in these days of dwindling budgets: “It’s completely free.”