LivingTree Announces First Round of Drako Grant Recipients

LivingTree Announces First Round of Drako Grant Recipients

One Million Dollar Grant Helps PK-12 Schools Across the Country Deepen Family & Community Engagement via Tiered Social NetworkR

AUSTIN, TX, May 3, 2017 – LivingTree today announced that it has awarded $250,000 in first round Drako Community and Family Engagement Grants for Schools to districts and campuses throughout the United States. A diverse set of PK-12 school communities representing 11 different states and varying socio-economic needs were awarded the first round Drako Grants. The grants provide a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.

The first round awards represent 25% of the Drako Grant total set at $1 Million as announced in April 2017. Due to the strength and volume of applications, awards are being made in rounds. Early grant recipients have the opportunity to immediately begin implementation planning towards goals shared on their applications.

“It’s a true honor to help schools create family and community partnerships that will positively impact student achievement,” said Dean Drako, grant benefactor and LivingTree Chairman. “The variety of the schools that have applied demonstrates that family engagement is a universal objective regardless of the location, environment, or grade level.”

LivingTree is excited to share the first round recipients.

First Round Grant Award Recipients

  • St. Lucie Public Schools – Fort Pierce, FL
  • Union County Public Schools – Monroe, NC
  • Alexander City Schools – Alexander, AL
  • Crockett County C.C.S.D. – Ozona, TX
  • Southwest ISD – San Antonio, TX
  • Jacksonville City Schools – Jacksonville, AL
  • Edward Bleeker JHS 185 – Flushing, NY
  • Firelands Montessori Academy – Huron, OH
  • New Caney ISD – New Caney, TX
  • Holy Name Central Catholic Jr/Sr High School – Worcester, MA
  • Newberry Academy – Newberry, SC
  • South Clearfield Elementary School – Clearfield, UT
  • St Martin High School – St. Martin, MS
  • Sweetwater Elementary – Douglasville, GA
  • Waiahole Elementary School – Kaneohe, HI

“We’re thrilled to partner with a group of school leaders devoted to building trust and achievement within their communities,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “Many applicants shared their desire to consolidate engagement efforts into a single platform and reach all families using translation and mobile. The LivingTree team is ready and enthusiastic to help these schools realize their vision.”

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.

Initial Award Recipients Share Engagement Goals

St. Lucie Public Schools, Kimberly Roberts, Program Manager:

“Living Tree will help us improve communication between the school and families by sharing options and ideas. Living Tree will provide support and ideas that will engage family and community members. The professional development LivingTree offers will help us improve our relationships between the school and families which in turn will help us build a stronger overall community to support our young in their education. Schools need to build bridges with our families and community that will last. We will engage families – not just involve them for today.”

Waiahole Elementary School, Alexandra Obra, Principal:

“We will communicate with families on a daily basis! Next school year, our focus is on the relationship between the school and home. We want to engage our families in their child’s learning. We would like to have all of our information in one spot so that families don’t have to look all over the place. We also want to make sure that our families have access to the information and can see what their child’s day looks like, as well as highlight what is taking place on our campus.”

Crockett County C.C.S.D, Janina Savala, Federal Programs:

“Living Tree will offer the two-way communication for all students in our district. Currently, most of our communication is one-way through the use of newsletters and notes that are sent home on a weekly basis. Having two-way communication will impact our school community positively by encouraging the parent to ask the teacher questions about concerns. Creating a platform where parents can talk to each other and to school staff and resolve differences early on will be a great benefit.”

Union County Public Schools, Tahira Stalberte, Chief Communications Officer:

“Living Tree has several features that will be extremely beneficial to UCPS and its families. We will use it provide ongoing communication with families, invite feedback and open doors for engaging with families in a non-traditional setting. LivingTree will provide a new and organized platform that can increase parent involvement in UCPS.”

Southwest ISD, Marie Cathryn Phelps, Student & Outreach Services:

“It is our sincere belief that families want to be connected to their children’s school community just as much as we want to be connected to them. We will utilize LivingTree as a district community…I literally picture a tree as a symbol of the district, strong and steadfast, reaching out to provide support, shade, or fruit to its stakeholders, and in this process, we will build and grow relationships where we will be connected and intertwined as we educate and grow our students. I believe that LivingTree will be a very powerful tool as we develop and grow a district wide family and community engagement initiative, that..can be a sustainable part of the community for generations to come.”

About the Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant

The Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools awards schools and districts with a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.

School grant recipients are those with a stated plan and need for using technology to engage families and communities. Eligible schools include accredited private and public schools in the United States: pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.

About LivingTree

Founded in 2012, LivingTree’s mission is to connect the people who raise, develop, and educate our children. LivingTree aims to include every member of the community regardless of preferred language or socio-economic status. LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® empowers leaders, organizations, educators and parents to connect, share, and coordinate up, down and across all levels of their private network to help improve academic achievement. LivingTree has been recognized for this work by the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business as the 2016 Gold Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Silver Smartphone App of the Year.  For more information, visit http://www.livingtree.com, call 844.LIV.TREE, or email at: info@livingtree.com

Maria Cantu SHARES Her Classroom

Maria Cantu has been educating children for 12 years; 9 of those years at Daniel Ramírez Elementary School in Pharr, Texas.  She knew she wanted to become a teacher when she was volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club the summer of her 9th grade year. “I instantly fell in love with teaching.” In addition to teaching at the school, she is the CLF leader, is responsible for school PR and is the school’s sponsor for the Mighty Hawks soccer club!  “Go Hawks!

Ms. Cantu is also the proud mama of 5 kids: 3 girls and 2 boys (14, 13, 9, 8 & 7). WOW! The two youngest attend Ramírez Elementary where Ms. Cantu teaches. “My kids continue to exceed my expectations in all aspects of academics”.

MariaCantu

Describe how you communicated and shared information with your students’ parents prior to using LivingTree.  Before using LivingTree, communicating with parents was mostly all ‘business’; I put notes on the weekly homework sheet, made phone calls when needed, used memos periodically, and scheduled parent teacher conferences.  I wasn’t really sharing the day to day joys of student learning and achievement, nor was I establishing the close rapport with parents that I sought. With LivingTree I can truly SHARE with parents what is happening in the classroom daily.

What feature or aspects of LivingTree do you appreciate most? Our school has implemented LivingTree campus wide so we have a community of teachers who post [in LivingTree].  I love that we can share our classroom achievements with one another.  I get to see other teacher’s classrooms; it has brought about a sense of camaraderie throughout our school.

Being so busy, how has LivingTree helped YOU specifically? Every year the district requires us to complete an evaluation for McREL.  To complete the evaluation, we are to provide ‘artifacts,’ documentation showing how we are growing as a teacher.  I provide lesson plans and pictures from the school year…we all know pictures are worth a 1000 words.  LivingTree makes it easy to find all my information for the entire year in one place; “very quick, easy and effective”.  I shared my ‘process’ with other teachers. They are now also using LivingTree as the tool for ‘documenting’ what they are doing in the classroom.

LivingTree has an App and can be used from a PC; which do you prefer? Both are valuable and user friendly.  The app is convenient – I use it for messaging, but I tend to use it mostly for sharing photos.  I sit at the PC when messaging and completing my McREL evaluation.

What do the parents of your students say about LivingTree? Parents and students alike love LivingTree.  Parents are “very happy” to see their child’s picture posted showing them hard at work, receiving an award, or celebrating a special day.  And my students love it too! It has gotten to the point where they say, “Mrs. Cantu, take a picture for LivingTree.”   

Proactive Family Engagement Efforts

As shared in District Administration Magazine – Q&A with Joni Carswell of LivingTree

Increasing student success with proactive family engagement efforts – Having a single platform to house all activity and conversation can help districts transform family engagement!

What are the benefits of an effective family engagement program?

Decades of research shows that family engagement is the number one driver of student success. Engaged families result in lower truancy rates, higher test scores, and higher graduation rates. Having positive relationships with families reduces teacher stress and increases their sense of community and belonging.

Many teachers engage with families via email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media apps. What’s wrong with that?
Public social media can be problematic due to privacy, security, general noisiness and account setup. On public channels, school communication is competing with personal, political and a variety of content streams. It’s unruly—a parent with multiple children would end up trying to follow 20+ accounts that are not connected. There’s also limited promise of COPPA and FERPA compliance to protect our children’s images and information.

Why does a district wide or systemic approach matter?
For parents, a classroom by classroom or campus by campus approach is typically extremely chaotic. Each teacher may be using a different method or worse, a parent is going to a different website for every teacher. Teachers are charged with setting up the page or group as well as keeping after parents to pay attention or join. This wastes valuable time. With a district wide or systemic approach, these burdens can be alleviated for both families and teachers. Setting up classrooms for the teachers with all connections in place such that they simply log into their accounts and share as desired saves a tremendous amount of time. For a parent, presetting an account having relevant class, grade level, campus, and district content flow into a single place can be the difference in an engaged vs. a checked out parent.

How can districts ensure equity and participation in their family engagement initiatives?
Technology and Simplicity! Two of the biggest challenges of family engagement are reach and the unintentional chaos created by too many communication channels. Technology such as mobile applications and instant translation solve the reach dilemma by offering the ability to connect every family in a community regardless of preferred language or income. Beyond reaching every family, technology can simplify engagement for everyone. Families and teachers are frustrated and overwhelmed by the time spent trying to determine HOW and WHERE to connect. Consolidating efforts to a single, secure place easily accessible via mobile calms the chaos of managing many students, families, subjects, etc. Simplifying HOW and WHERE allows the school community to focus on actual engagement.

What is LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network®, and why is this model important to school districts?
LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® provides a systemic solution for family engagement. It takes the burden off the teacher and parent and allows for two-way conversation in 100-plus languages on web or mobile. Each group (class, grade level, etc.) has its own private community which nests into the organizational layer above it. Conversation and content flow up, down and across the tiered network based on group membership and relationship to the community. LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® uniquely gives administrators at each level the full view and analytics of the smaller community networks feeding into their part of the organization. LivingTree empowers communities to engage and ultimately achieve greater student success.

Digital tools help districts overcome language barriers to family engagement

As shared in Education Dive

Digital tools help districts overcome language barriers to family engagement – One social network’s automatic translation feature has helped parents better interact with teachers

Ensuring language barriers do not get in the way of parent access to essential school and district information is not just a strategy for increasing engagement, it’s required by federal regulations. And in districts with dozens of different languages spoken by families, meeting these obligations is no easy task.

Schools across the country have added interpreters and translators to their staffs, purchased subscriptions to telephone interpretation services, and coordinated with community agencies to make sure qualified interpreters from a range of backgrounds are available for important meetings and school events.

When it comes to basic family engagement, some schools have begun to take advantage of digital tools with built-in translators to go one step farther. The nation’s most diverse zip code, 75038, is in the Irving neighborhood of the Dallas metro area. It’s largest population group is Asian, and they make up just 25.7% of the neighborhood. The zip code is also 25% black, 23% Latino and 23% white.

The Irving Independent School District serves much of the 75038 zip code, and, like this neighborhood, has a particularly diverse student body. This year, its students speak a total of 52 different languages. Lesley Weaver, division director of communications, says the district has interpreters on staff who can interpret into and out of some of the most common languages while also coordinating services for families who speak other languages.

While the district website has long featured an automatic translation feature, which currently translates into more than 100 different languages, Weaver has been particularly pleased with a private social network the district debuted in 13 schools in the fall of 2014 and later rolled out to the remaining 25.

Living Tree can be downloaded as a free cellphone app or accessed online, just like Facebook. Teachers can post updates about classroom lessons or upcoming events, sharing text, photos and videos in a private network that— most important for Weaver — allows two-way communication. Parents can like and comment on posts and send private messages to teachers. Thanks to the automatic translation, every user can be reading and writing in his or her preferred language.

“We know that regardless of income, regardless of language, parents want to be connected to their child’s education,” Weaver said. “All parents want what’s best for their kids.”

Living Tree gives parents an easy and direct way to communicate about day-to-day classroom activities. But while it features automatic translation, computers will never be perfect at something so complicated as translating nuanced language.

“We remind teachers in trainings that they need to be cognizant of the things they’re posting,” Weaver said.

Among the best practices they are reminded of is staying away from slang or innuendo because it may not be translated accurately. One example Weaver offers teachers is based on a standard turn of phrase — it’s common to say “we’ve got a lot of great things ‘in store’ for the new year” but “store” will almost certainly be translated into business by automatic tools.

So far, Irving ISD has about 8,200 active users on Living Tree. In a district with 35,000 students, that’s far from 100% parent participation, but considering the last app the school marketed garnered just 1,400 users, Weaver considers Living Tree a success and an important addition to its family engagement efforts.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says individuals cannot be discriminated against by national origin, and the courts have made clear that language barriers that prevent meaningful access to public institutions amount to exactly that. In January 2015, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to help schools and districts meet their legal obligations to English learner students and their parents and guardians with limited English proficiency. This document was the clearest and most comprehensive outline of school responsibilities on this matter to date.

From the joint guidance, schools and districts must make sure LEP parents get all the same school information provided to English-speaking parents including — but not limited to — information about: “language assistance programs, special education and related services, IEP meetings, grievance procedures, notices of nondiscrimination, student discipline policies and procedures, registration and enrollment, report cards, requests for parent permission for student participation in district or school activities, parent-teacher conferences, parent handbooks, gifted and talented programs, magnet and charter schools, and any other school and program choice options.”

Schools must also have a defined process for identifying parents who need translation and interpretation services and then providing it. And they need to provide language assistance with “appropriate, competent staff” or similarly qualified outside resources. That means asking bilingual staff members to translate in IEP meetings or pulling children in to translate for their parents during parent-teacher conferences is not allowed.

“Some bilingual staff and community volunteers may be able to communicate directly with LEP parents in a different language, but not be competent to interpret in and out of English … or to translate documents,” the guidance reads. School districts can be — and have been — found liable for relying on untrained or unqualified interpreters.

While app-based, automatic translators cannot fulfill a district’s responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act, Irving ISD has found its chosen tool can at least round out engagement efforts across a diverse community.

“We want families to feel like they have good, accurate, current information about what is going on in their child’s school as well as how they can help them,” Weaver said.

Its social network can at least do that.

 

 

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 introduced many updates regarding family engagement. Anne T. Henderson of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform released an excellent brief detailing the updates. LivingTree uniquely addresses the need to implement campus and district wide collaboration – allowing for two way conversation in native language. Below are relevant excerpts from Anne T. Henderson’s brief and ESSA.

The purpose of Title I: “To provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”

FROM ESSA:

Title I: Parent and family engagement

District policy: (1) In general — A school district may receive funds under this part only if:

  • It conducts outreach to all parents and family members;
  • Implements programs, activities, and procedures to involve parents and family members in Title I programs.
  • Plans and implements such programs, activities, and procedures with meaningful consultation with parents of participating children.

Reservation of funds for parent and family engagement – Minimum 1 percent:

  • Each district shall reserve at least 1 percent of its Title I allocation to assist schools to carry out the parent and family engagement activities (except for districts where 1 percent of the district grant is $5,000 or less). This provision shall not limit districts from reserving more than 1 percent.
  • Parent and family input: Parents and family members of children receiving Title I services shall be involved in the decisions regarding how these funds reserved are allotted for parent involvement activities.
  • Distribution of funds: Not less than 90 percent of the funds reserved shall be distributed to schools served under this part, with priority given to high-need schools.
  • Use of funds: Funds reserved by the district shall be used to carry out activities and strategies consistent with the district’s parent and family engagement policy, including at least 1 of the following:

a. Professional development: Supporting schools and nonprofit organizations in providing professional development for local educational agency and school personnel regarding parent and family engagement strategies, which may be provided jointly to teachers, principals, and other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, early childhood educators, and parents and family members.

b. Home-based programs: Supporting programs that reach parents and family members at home, in the community, and at school.

c. Disseminating information: Informing on best practices focused on parent and family engagement, especially best practices for increasing the engagement of economically disadvantaged parents and family members.

d. Collaborating with community-based organizations: Providing subgrants to schools so they can collaborate, with community-based or other organizations or employers with a record of success in improving and increasing parent and family engagement.

e. Other activities: Engaging in any other activities and strategies that the local educational agency determines are appropriate and consistent with such agency’s parent and family engagement policy;

Shared responsibility for high student academic achievement: School-Parent Compact

As a component of the school-level parent and family engagement policy developed under this section, each school served under Title I shall jointly develop with parents for all Title I children a school-parent compact that outlines how parents, the entire school staff, and students will share the responsibility for improved student academic achievement and the means by which the school and parents will build and develop a partnership to help children achieve the State’s high standards. The compact shall:

Describe parent-teacher communications: Address the importance of ongoing communication between teachers and parents through, at a minimum:

  1. Parent-teacher conferences in elementary schools, at least annually, during which the compact shall be discussed as it relates to the individual child’s achievement;
  2. Frequent reports to parents on their children’s progress;
  3. Reasonable parent access to staff, opportunities to volunteer and participate in their child’s class, and observation of classroom activities; and
  4. Regular two-way, meaningful communication between family members and school staff, and, to the extent practicable, in a language that family members can understand.

LivingTree addresses every aspect of parent-teacher communication, enables campus and district wide dissemination of information, encourages collaboration with community organizations, and grants every community equitable access.

 

Teaching Tolerance

Families join our teachers from a variety of circumstances and cultures. Moving beyond beginning of school introductions to partnership takes planning and effort. True family engagement is a year long process.

Teaching Tolerance has excellent resources available to guide teachers in partnering with ALL families throughout the year to achieve ultimate student success. From this attitudinal survey to guidance on respect, their resources can simplify planning. Attitude and respect are paramount to developing and maintaining family relationships. Three key respect takeaways:

  1. Value the cultural knowledge children bring to school by acknowledging family diversity through discussion, affirmation and celebration.
  2. Build cultural continuity between home and school to encourage parent involvement in school activities.
  3. Explore your own family background as well as the diversity specific to your classroom community.

Communicating in home language, reaching every parent where they are, and allowing two way conversation between all families are key steps in realizing respect and transparency. Technology in the form of a single, secure platform can provide this and be a cornerstone in achieving your engagement plans, transparency, and mutual respect this year.

Five Steps to Engaging in the New School Year

Over the last four years, our team has had the opportunity to work with schools and districts around the United States and world to increase parent engagement. We’ve seen a few simple behaviors that drive successful programs. Some of these are basic framework for any program, however, we thought we’d share as we’ve seen them consistently make the difference in developing a thriving community. Here’s to thriving in the 2016-17 school year!!

Five steps to engagement:

  1. Define the relationship: What type of relationship do you wish to have within your staff, parent, and student communities this year? What words would you use to describe the relationship? Are you hoping for Trust? Partnership? Successful districts have shared that clearly defining and adding values to what you wish to see at the end of the year will help you succeed.
  2. Share your vision: The old adage “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” comes to mind. If your community doesn’t know what type of relationship you’ve defined and what you’re striving to achieve, they won’t know how to be part of the vision. Your single biggest catalyst can come from community members who are excited by the transparency and passion you’re putting towards engagement.
  3. Pick a methodology or tool: We hear over and over that educators and parents alike are overwhelmed with the amount of time they spend “communicating.” It’s not unlike trying to take a sip from a full throttle fire hose. Once you’ve defined the relationship you wish to have, simplify the path by picking a methodology or tool that works for your community. We recommend technology for leveling the playing field across language and economic barriers and choosing a platform that can be used at every level of the school or district. Simplify!!
  4. Set an example and Be consistent: Such simple words, but hard in practice. One of the major and consistent success factors we see with engaged communities are leaders (both educators and parents) who have defined the relationship, chosen the method, and then stuck to it until there is consistency across all members of the community. Setting an example early in the year of what will be shared, when and where will take stress off of everyone and save time as well.
  5. Reward behavior: Teachers and key parent leaders play a critical role in driving community engagement across a school and district. Reward those who are working toward the vision, setting examples, and being consistent. It can be as simple as praising them on your engagement platform. Let your community members know you’re watching and appreciative of the partnership.

A “whole community on board”

parkrowlogo  LivingTree Pride – Cindy Nelson

Cindy Nelson wears many hats at Park Row Christian Academy: School nurse, receptionist, admissions assistant, social media specialist, and LivingTree expert. Cindy has spent the last three years helping PRCA carry out their mission to share knowledge, skills and spiritual values with students. Like many who work in the K12 field, Cindy finds joy in her career because of the “genuine love [children] extend.” We’re excited to share Cindy’s LivingTree story!

Describe your parent engagement strategy and methodology prior to LivingTree: “Before LivingTree, we used RenWeb, which is less about engagement and more about information. We used Facebook for sharing some items, but our director was wary of using Facebook because it is not private – anyone could be looking at the photos that we shared. We also shared a lot of paper fliers.

Why did you decide to use a new tool for parent engagement? “The fact that LivingTree is a private, secure engagement network sold it for our director. Although she is not a social media guru, when our director heard about LivingTree’s privacy and communication features, she was very, very excited.”

What was your implementation of LivingTree like? “We held a few teacher trainings at the beginning. I was also available for 1 on 1 help if needed. Our staff is not extremely familiar with technology, so the main challenge was making sure everyone felt comfortable with the platform. I did not get many questions from parents – they seemed to have an easy time transitioning. During our implementation, I felt like LivingTree Support was there to hold our hand. We are now finishing up our second year on LivingTree, and our whole community is on board.”

What are some of the results you have seen since using LivingTree at your school? “We have very limited opportunities for face-to-face interaction with parents. LivingTree enables us to engage with parents after hours and off campus. Thanks to features likes picture sharing, the ability to comment on posts, and volunteer management, LivingTree has brought cohesion into our community. And now we only use Facebook for generic, public information, and we can share posts instead of always passing out flyers. We share out our volunteer needs on LivingTree as well.”

What feature do you use the most? “Probably photo posts! It is a great way for us to let parents peek inside the classroom. Parents get excited when they see photos of their child doing activities at school. We’ve also really enjoyed using LivingTree for party sign ups and teacher conferences.”

What would you say to teachers who are hesitant to use technology for engagement? “I would say that LivingTree is very user-friendly; and LivingTree’s support has been more than adequate. I am always able to get in touch with support, and if our parents need help or troubleshooting, I feel comfortable putting a parent directly in touch with the team.”

What would you do if LivingTree were taken away? “Gosh, I don’t know! We would probably have to use Facebook a little more, but there’s a fine line on what we could share because the site is public. Facebook doesn’t have all of the bells & whistles that LivingTree does – it’s not a company that understands what features a school really needs in an engagement platform.”

What one thing would you say about LivingTree to others? “I love the way LivingTree connects our families. It brings parents into the conversation, making them feel like they are a part of the school. Connecting parents, teachers and administrators in one private network is a huge factor for us. Parents can see that what’s going on while they’re are off campus is what’s being told to them – that increases trust in our school and teachers. We love LivingTree. We love it – it’s really awesome.”

Lori Genzer’s LivingTree Story

LivingTree Pride – Lori Genzer, LivingTree Senior Relationship Manager

alori

Teaching has always been a passion for Lori Genzer. “Nothing beats that light bulb moment when you see those eyes light up with understanding.” Because Lori’s elementary school served many ESL students and parents, communicating with her parents was a major challenge, and two-way conversation with a parent was nearly impossible. Relying on her students to share information to their parents in a correct and timely manner (even if it was handing over a translated flier) did not work. Lori’s interest in using technology in the K-12 world developed as she sought programs that would help engage her students and parents. After ten years of teaching, Lori accepted the position as a technology integration specialist for Texas Region 2’s Education Service Center. Throughout her ten years at the ESC, parent engagement remained top of mind. Lori joined the LivingTree team because she understands the obstacles that hinder communication between the home and school, and she believes LivingTree is the answer. Lori’s district adopted LivingTree in the fall of 2015; she shares her story as a former teacher, and now a LivingTree parent of four children attending three different schools.

How did teaching develop your interest in using technology in the K-12 environment? When I was asked to apply for a technology integration position at the ESC, I was excited to see where my next adventure would take me. Technology has allowed us to streamline our processes to make things easier and run more efficiently.  This allows us to spend more time where it matters.  We all know that parent engagement is a huge success factor for our children.  Our globalized society means that families are unique.  They are unique in their customs, their values and their languages.  What is not unique however, is how much we all value our children. “

What attracted you to LivingTree as an employee? “LivingTree addresses so many of the challenges that I faced as a teacher and a parent of four. After ten years of serving districts in my role at the ESC, I decided to try and make a difference on a broader scale. Parent Engagement has become my new passion. LivingTree has given me an easy to use tool that streamlines many of the day-to-day processes our schools carry out – It handles translation for all of its users, volunteer management, and the calendar is life changing for me. I get to put this tool in the hands of every teacher, administrator, and parent. My new role has allowed me to reach schools from the southern most tip of Texas to the Big Apple. I am so excited to see the success of so many of our schools, because we all know that engagement equals achievement.”

What are some of the obstacles you had with parent engagement & involvement as a teacher? “So many of our parents and students are new to the English language. I sometimes had to depend on the student to convey my message to their parents, and that message was not always conveyed correctly or timely. This meant that the parents were not aware of the information they needed in order to help their child. I was at the mercy of whatever free translation program I could find on the Internet. I spent hours trying to translate all of the information into the languages that my parents and students spoke at home. It was time consuming and sometimes impossible. It was also disheartening to find the information crumpled up in a backpack, never having made it home.”

Describe your schools’ parent engagement strategy and methodology prior to LivingTree: “Prior to my own district adopting LivingTree, the information that I received was either by email or robo-call. I didn’t receive a lot of information from the campus or classroom level. What I noticed was that so many of the emails and messages really didn’t apply to my children. Because I came to expect that it was not applicable, I found myself tuning out and turning off. Sadly that meant that I missed the messages that did apply to me and I grew frustrated. Sometimes I would find a flyer in the bottom of my children’s backpacks. I received more information from my elementary child than my Middle or High School children. I was clueless about what was going on at the campus. The district used news stations for emergency messages; but sometimes it was incorrect, so I began skimming Facebook waiting for someone to share what was going on. This is frustrating at 7:15 on a school day trying to decide if I needed to pack lunches and drive my children to school or not. The PTA used to place flyers in the Friday packets at the elementary, but at the Middle and High School I only saw PTA at registration selling shirts. Beyond that, I never saw them again.”

Why do you believe the district decided to use a new method or tool for parent engagement? “I think our school was very interested in building relationships with their parents. They know that parent engagement is a huge factor in the success of their students, and that is very important to them. After adopting LivingTree, I have seen the “us against them” mentality turn around completely. I now see more parents at events, and I’ve seen more ‘THANK YOUs’ in LivingTree than ever before in our community. LivingTree has changed the culture in our district.”

What has the district’s transition into LivingTree been like for you as a parent?  “While the district did offer to help any parent who needed assistance with LivingTree, a training was not necessary. I now feel completely connected and aware of what’s happening at all of my children’s campuses. In one easy to use app, I found organization and preparedness. No more 10 o’clock trips to Wal-Mart to get a poster board or glue!”

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What are some of the results you have seen since your district started using LivingTree? “As a working parent, I really feel like I am more aware of what is going on at each school. With the calendar, I can stay on track without second-guessing when events are happening or when due dates are approaching. I’ve been able to attend more volunteer events and really be a better partner in each of my children’s education. Having all of the information that I need from all 27 of my children’s teachers in ONE place is a game changer!”

How has a better method of engagement affected your relationship with teachers and fellow parents? “I now have conversations with my children’s teachers all of the time and it is so much easier. I’ve also been able to reach out to other parents for help on assignments and events – It’s really nice having a directory of parents who are in my child’s class to turn to for help. I get excited when I see pictures of projects or labs that my children are doing in class. It’s the next best thing to actually being there. I feel more trust and appreciation for each of the teachers when I actually see what’s happening in the classroom.”

How has better engagement affected your children? My children are more on task than they were before because I have time to prepare for projects and help them plan ahead and use their time more wisely. I no longer have the “How was school? – Fine” “What did you do today? – Nothing” conversation. We have an actual discussion about what they are learning. Bringing the classroom discussion into our home has really brought about a huge change in my children’s thinking about school. We’re able to discuss how what they’re doing in class applies to the real world.”

What feature do you use or appreciate the most? “Because I speak English and can understand all of the information, I truly love the calendar.  It helps me stay on task with all of my children’s teachers and I only have to look in one place. I do sometimes catch myself changing the translation of the feed just so I can imagine how hard it must be to not speak the language.  I imagine that if I were a non-English speaker, the translation feature would be my safety net.”

What would you do if LivingTree were taken away? “If LivingTree were taken away, I would feel so lost!  I don’t ever want to go back to 6 different apps, 20 websites or crumpled flyers in the bottom of the backpacks ever again!”

What one thing would you say about LivingTree to teachers, fellow parents, and district leaders? “It is a game changer, a field leveler for all parents and students. It streamlines all of your processes and makes it so easy, so that you can spend your time where it matters most, with our children.”

 

 

 

Collective Voice

Our mission at LivingTree is to build trust and partnership between schools, families, and communities. Why is this so important to us? Because we’re educators and parents ourselves and parent engagement is the number one driver of student success. The increased national conversation we’re seeing around parent engagement is exciting to say the least. With the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 calling for two-way conversation, we’re hopeful that we’ll see more strategic plans calling for real parent conversation and engagement.

Christina Torres’ recent blog post was a wonderful insight. In her words: “The definition of student success should not come from a small group of passionate people. Rather, real progress and effective change will only be realized through the collective voices and efforts of all of us.”

The question is, how are we including everyone such that we have a collective voice? How are we bringing every voice to the table regardless of previous experience with education, language spoken, socio-economic status, etc.?

We believe that technology can and should be used to bring every voice to the table. Laying a foundation with technology can build and enhance relationships such that every community member is more encouraged to engage in person and each face to face interaction is more meaningful. We worked in partnership with many schools to develop a platform and feature set to enable these interactions. After four years of working with our education partners in building digital engagement, we’ve seen consistent success in four key areas:

  1. Two-way conversation is critical – Give parents and students a voice. Let them ask questions. Show them trust by allowing them a place to share and converse with educators and each other.
  2. Pictures are worth MORE than 1000 words – Figure out a safe and private way to invite your community into the classroom virtually. Imagery breaks down so many barriers and brings the community together for common goals.
  3. Access, access, access: Mobile and translation are not optional – whether it’s a working parent or a family without a computer at home, mobile access is critical. Not all mobile access is created equal. Make sure there is two-way communication capability on mobile and make sure it translates for all languages. LivingTree provides native mobile apps and translation to 50+ languages (100+ coming this summer).
  4. Connect EVERYONE in ONE place – There are many options at the class level to share socially, distribute photos, etc. However, if each teacher is using a different method, parents and students are lost. Connect the entire school and district in one place to build a thriving community and conversation.

It’s an exciting time to move engagement forward. Technology should be a key piece of this strategy in both building base relationships and augmenting face to face interaction. Again, the words of Ms. Torres: “I encourage all teachers and states to take measures that allow students and families to share their voice.” We couldn’t agree more!!!

Engagement & Fundraising

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