LivingTree Pride – Lori Genzer, LivingTree Senior Relationship Manager
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!”
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.”
Irving ISD Families Connect, Engage and Share with LivingTree
Earlier this week, Irving ISD launched a new communications network, LivingTree, to provide families the opportunity to connect, engage and share in their children’s education.
The implementation of LivingTree’s private, ‘social-like’ network simplifies school-to-family and family-to-school communication using a single application available on web and mobile (iPhone and Android). The network enables educators and parents to share posts, alerts, files, events and content, while allowing users to volunteer for activities, send and receive private direct messages and access directory listings. In addition, LivingTree offers translation of messages to more than 40 languages.
Thirteen of the 37 Irving schools currently serve as early adopters of LivingTree. In the coming weeks, Irving ISD’s communications department will host “app bars” at the early adopter schools to promote the new application and demonstrate the network and its many features. The 13 campuses are:
Early Childhood Schools
“In Irving Independent School District, we are always looking for ways to better communicate with our families,” says Superintendent of Schools Jose L. Parra, Ed.D. “Our partnership with LivingTree will enable our schools, families and community partners to create a network that focuses efforts on student excellence.”
“We are excited to offer LivingTree as a way for parents to stay informed, connected and engaged to what their child is learning in the classroom,” says Lesley Weaver, Irving ISD’s director of communications. “With features similar to other social networking sites, we expect families will be able to easily navigate the mobile app as well as the web-based application. Parents can stay in touch with teachers and type messages in their native tongue, encouraging two-way dialogue while removing the language barrier for non-English speaking parents.”
LivingTree CEO Cullen Childress expresses his excitement about the implementation, saying, “Partnering with Irving ISD is an honor for LivingTree. We look forward to working closely with a district that’s truly pushing boundaries and at the forefront of partnering with parents for best student outcomes. We’re excited to provide the game-changing, next-generation component of Irving’s community engagement plan.”
Founded in 2012, LivingTree’s mission is to connect the people who raise, develop and educate our children.
For more information about Irving ISD’s LivingTree’s implementation in Irving ISD, visit www.irvingisd.net/livingtree.
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Director of Communications
Irving Independent School District
LivingTree simplifies school-to-family and family-to-school communication using a single application available on web and mobile (iPhone and Android) to share posts, alerts, files, events, and content, even translating this important information to 40+ languages. The private, secure network replaces outdated and single direction modes of communication such as blogs, out of date websites, e-mail blasts, paper, etc. Users can also volunteer for activities, send and receive private direct messages and access directory listings.
“Our goal for the first semester is to implement it within our district so our staff members learn how to use it, and they are able to create their online communities and groups,” said Garcia. “After a couple of months of district usage, we will begin to expand the network and add our parents and students.”
Each school network within PSJA ISD extends to the PTA, booster club, athletic group, and student organizations. There is no cost to the families of the 32,000 students in PSJA ISD for utilizing the LivingTree network including the native Android and iPhone apps.
LivingTree CEO Cullen Childress expressed his excitement about the implementation, “We’re honored to work with an educational leader like PSJA ISD to achieve the next level of community collaboration goals for the district. LivingTree’s secure networks build around the student and family, allowing parents, teachers, and administrators alike to truly partner in educating and developing our children.”
Garcia adds, “Implementing our own private social network to connect the entire PSJA educational community will drive greater transparency and engagement in the lives of our student’s education and future. This accelerates our primary mission of empowering our students to achieve their highest goals of education and future success.”
August 5, 2014– As the Rio Grande Valley continues to see rapid growth and Texas House Bill 5 requirements challenge school districts to evaluate their performance on community and parental involvement, it is more important than ever for our families and schools to partner together to lead the state in achieving the best student experiences and outcomes. In the spirit of creating even greater community within the Valley, Region One ESC is proud to announce a partnership with LivingTree (www.livingtree.com), a private ‘social like’ network for schools and districts.
“We are proud to offer our school districts a safe and protected system to communicate with their school and parent community through our partnership with LivingTree. Because it is a closed network, LivingTree provides access to only those that have been invited to participate. It’s much more than ‘friending’ someone, with LivingTree you are part of a much stronger bond; through LivingTree participants become part of a ‘family’, “ says Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez the Executive Director of Region One’s Education Service Center.
Livingtree simplifies school-to-parent and parent-to-school communication using a single application available on web and mobile to share posts, alerts, files, events, and content, even translating this important information to 40+ languages. The private, secure network replaces outdated modes of communication such as blogs, out of date websites, e-mail blasts, paper, etc. Users can also volunteer for activities, send and receive private direct messages and access directory listings.
Each customized school network extends to the PTA, booster club, athletic group, and student organizations. There is no cost to the families of the 420,000+ students in region one when districts implement the private network for their community. For district and school administrators, analytics for House Bill 5 reporting are automatically generated and available.
LivingTree CEO Cullen Childress expressed his excitement about the partnership, “I believe this partnership aligns perfectly with the Region One vision of transforming learning communities towards excellence. LivingTree’s secure networks build around the student and family, allowing parents, teachers, and administrators alike to truly partner in educating and developing our children.”
Dr Gonzalez adds, “We hope that districts will take full advantage of the many tools available through LivingTree to develop and nurture communication between their schools and parent community. Imagine, a network built especially for those in the K-12 education system where you don’t have to worry about external distractions like unwanted advertisements or inappropriate material. LivingTree offers a safe and secure network where the most important “trending topic” is the students!”
Texas Education Service Centers Partner with LivingTree
Together, ESCs and LivingTree bring one integrated K-12 private “social-like” network to school communities
AUSTIN, TX, July 15, 2014 /Education PR News/ — In light of Texas House Bill 5 requirements regarding community engagement, several regional education service centers have partnered with LivingTree to bring a unique, private collaboration platform to their districts, schools, classrooms, parents and students. Representing over 600,000 students in the state of Texas, Educational Service Centers 1, 5, 8, and 14 are excited to provide LivingTree’s cutting edge platform which features translation to 40+ languages in addition to integrated analytics and reporting on family and community engagement.
LivingTree empowers educational institutions and organizations to connect, share and coordinate at all levels of the network by sharing posts, push notifications/alerts, media, files, events, content, volunteer/sign up management, private direct messaging and directory listings. The network also extends to ancillary networks (e.g., PTA, athletics, student government, etc.), as well as equal access for everyone in the socio-economic curve with rich web access, full featured Android and iOS applications and translation support in 40+ languages so that every family has a seat at the window of the classroom and school community.
“LivingTree is an obvious choice for streamlining communication and House Bill 5 compliance,” says Robb McClellan, Director of Technology for ESC 14. “We’re excited to bring the LivingTree feature set to our 42 districts. Translation will allow for communication to all families while automatic, integrated reporting dramatically simplifies self-assessment and goal setting for community engagement.” Jenny Thomas, Oak Forest Elementary principal within Houston ISD agrees: “Repeatedly, our parents share that LivingTree has had a huge impact on making them feel more connected to the school. They also express that they are more aware than ever before of what events are happening on campus. This has led to even greater parent involvement at our school.”
LivingTree’s solution is a private, secure, social communication and engagement platform on web, iOS, and Android, applying a next generation approach to connecting networks of people involved in educating our children. Built on the latest web and mobile technologies and backed by a highly scalable cloud deployment, LivingTree’s feature-rich Web 2.0 platform displaces outdated tools such as email blasts/notification systems, web/parent portals, websites, teacher blogs, printed handouts, etc.
“We’re excited about partnering with these education service centers as the recommended and supported community engagement platform for all of their elementary, middle schools, high schools, and districts. We look forward to bringing greater transparency and engagement to the families and communities of the 600,000 students in these regions,” said Cullen Childress, CEO and co-founder of LivingTree.
About LivingTree: Founded in 2012, LivingTree’s mission is to connect the people who raise, develop, and educate our children. LivingTree empowers leaders and organizations to connect, share, and coordinate up, down and across all levels of their private network – with school families at the end of the network.
For more information visit www.livingtree.com.