LivingTree Announces Third Round of Drako Grant Recipients
LivingTree Announces Third Round of Drako Grant Recipients
One Million Dollar Grant Helps PK-12 Schools Across the Country Deepen Family & Community Engagement via Tiered Social Network®
AUSTIN, TX, June 15, 2017 – LivingTree today announced that it has awarded $500,000 in third 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 27 different states and 80 different districts with varying socio-economic needs were awarded the Drako Grants.
The third round awards bring the total amount awarded to just over $1 million and complete the Drako Grant opportunity announced in April 2017. The grants provide a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social Network® — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.
“We’re excited by the number of applicants seeking to change the way families are engaged in their communities,” said Dean Drako, grant benefactor and LivingTree Chairman. “It’s an honor to be part of improving student achievement by working with these committed and passionate educators.”
LivingTree is excited to share the third round recipients.
Third Round Grant Award Recipients Include:
Jefferson Parish Public School System – Harvey, LA
Sheldon ISD – Houston, TX
Sumter County Schools – Americus, GA
Narbonne High School – Los Angeles, CA
George Washington HS – Danville, VA
Hazel Crest School District 152.5 – Hazel Crest, IL
PS 114X Luis Llorens Torres Children’s Academy – New York, NY
Monte Alto ISD – Monte Alto, TX
Harding Middle School – Des Moines, IA
Crosspointe Elementary – Boynton Beach, FL
PS1X -The Courtlandt School – Bronx, NY
The Varnett Public Charter School – Houston, TX
Brentwood Middle School – Greeley, CO
Jersey City Community Charter School – Jersey City, NJ
Noel Community Arts School – Denver, CO
Margaret G. Scotten Elementary – Grass Valley, CA
Hilliard A Willbanks Middle School – Demorest, GA
Highland View Elementary – Bristol, VA
Blessed Sacrament Catholic School – Denver, CO
Bay Springs Elementary – Bay Springs, MS
Cornerstone Schools – Jacksonville, FL
Antioch Unified School District – Antioch, CA
North Main Street School – Pleasantville, NJ
Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia – Wynnewood, PA
Carrizo Springs Junior High – Carrizo Spgs, TX
St. Luke Catholic Elementary School – Stockton, CA
Dillon Christian School – Dillon, SC
Chicago Tech High School – Chicago, IL
Rockdale Academy – Cincinnati, OH
Cardinal Ohara HS – Tonawanda, NY
Robert F. Munroe Day School – Quincy, FL
Wallingford Family YMCA – Wallingford, CT
Nash Primary School – Weymouth, MA
St. John School – San Francisco, CA
Walker Memorial Academy – Avond Park, FL
Bridgeport Elementary – Bridgeport, AL
District 75 – Manhattan School for Career Development – New York, NY
St. Mary of Carmel Catholic School – Dallas, TX
Nespelem School – Nespelem, WA
Harvest Christian Academy – Wilmington, DE
St. Edward Catholic School – Minneota, MN
Passport Achievement Learning Center – South Holland, IL
“The Grant program has been a joy to share,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “At LivingTree, we’re inspired by the passion and commitment shown by educators in sharing their desire to partner with families and communities for better student outcomes.”
Third Round Award Recipients Share Engagement Goals
Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, Rachel Mazurek, Director of Communications and Community Relations:
“We believe that if we had a more accessible means of communicating with our parent body, it could improve our school tremendously. Parent contact is of utmost importance and there are so many ways Living Tree would help us expand and engage our parent body. We believe parents would become more active partners in their children’s education if they had more means of communication and had a greater knowledge of what actually happens in school. Also, we would use it to connect parents to one another and help parents get to know the other parents in their children’s classes and more broadly in the school, creating a better sense of community.”
Encinal Elementary, Menlo Park City School District, Jennifer Kollman, Principal:
“We have a huge need to directly increase the level of parent engagement for our English Learner families. We have set an audacious goal to reduce the number of LTELS in our district to zero in four years. We would be able to use Living Tree to completely engage our EL families in understanding and helping them to navigate the complexities of school, opportunities, announcements, etc. in their own language.”
Jefferson Parish Public School System, Christie Gomez, Director of Community Engagement:
“We will use LivingTree as a singular stop for district and school information. Making the effort to involve all parents by reaching out to them in their native languages and letting them know that we want them to participate will be amazing. Many of the families in our district choose not to use Facebook because it is public, so it’s difficult to engage those parents. LivingTree being private can eliminate some of their privacy concerns making them reachable in an informational as well as social context with two way dialogue.”
Sheldon ISD, Dr. Brenda Dearmon, Director of Federal Programs and Grants:
“LivingTree will be used to offer a communication tool that will inform parents and families of programs and events occurring on each campus and within the district. This will produce positive results, especially for campuses at the secondary level. We will also utilize LivingTree to facilitate a two-way dialogue between parent and school that will assist in establishing effective family – school partnerships.”
Wallingford Family YMCA, Cassandra Allen, Youth Support Specialist:
“With LivingTree we would be able to connect all of our families to not just the program and the staff that they see every day, but with the YMCA as a whole. With greater parent involvement, we would be able to make these programs even better and would be able to showcase exactly what the YMCA does each and every day.”
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 Network® — 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.
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: email@example.com
Drako $1,000,000 Family Engagement Grant for Schools
LivingTree Executive Chairman Dean Drako Announces $1,000,000 Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools
AUSTIN, Texas. April 4, 2017 – Dean Drako, LivingTree owner and executive chairman, announced today that he has funded the Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools for up to $1M; individual schools and districts who are awarded the grant will receive their own private and secure, Tiered Social NetworkR — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for 1 year. Eligible schools include accredited private and public schools in the United States: elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.
Schools Report Improved Family Engagement with Private Social Networks
A recent survey showed that that only one in five schools reported having greater than 50% of families engaged. Districts cite using more than 12 methodologies to engage families and frustration with results. One hundred percent of districts using private social networks report improvement in family engagement. The top reasons for increased family engagement are based on student achievement and include: higher literacy rates, better attendance, higher test scores, and increased graduation rates in addition to a culture of partnership for educators and families alike.
“We are funding this community and family engagement grant to make it easier for more schools to use the latest technology to build trust and partnership within their communities,” said Dean Drako, Executive Chairman, LivingTree. “LivingTree’s private and secure Tiered Social NetworkR offers many benefits to improve engagement and awareness, including two-way translation to 100+ languages, native mobile apps, media sharing, volunteer management, emergency alerts, and simple implementation.”
$1,000,000 Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools – Details
Grant winners will receive a grant for one full year of funding for their custom LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR and associated planning, implementation, and training. The solution includes SIS integration, emergency alerts, SMS texting, two-way translation, mobile apps, media sharing, all other LivingTree engagement features, and community partner networks. LivingTree also provides marketing and awareness materials as well as best practices for using technology to engage families and community. LivingTree social networks are private and secure and offer weekly analytics at the class, campus, and district level.
The Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools is appealing to help schools use the best technology to consolidate and simplify engagement efforts. Research shows that engaged families can offset as much as $1000 in needed funding per year for each student. Further, some states require objective measures of family engagement while the national Every Student Succeeds Act mandates two way conversation in native language.
LivingTree is a hosted service and requires no additional technology at the school sites. LivingTree is COPPA compliant, FERPA compliant, and a Student Data Privacy Signatory. At the end of the 12 months, if the school chooses to continue using the LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR, they would purchase the annual license and continue with uninterrupted service. The school / district also has the option to shut down their network, at no charge.
Grant applications will be accepted starting April 4, 2017. Application deadline is June 1, 2017. Grant winners will be selected based on the merits and timeliness of their application.
Briargrove Elementary serves ~900 students in the Houston School District. Nearly half the school’s population is Latino and Asian-Pacific, and 23% of students are in ESL programs. Prior to LivingTree, the school relied heavily on room parents and the PTO to relay information and volunteer opportunities to parents. Despite the combined use of flyers, email blasts, and newsletters, parents felt uninformed. Results from a 2011-2012 survey showed parents felt excluded and disconnected from the school. As of Fall 2016, 100% of classrooms were engaged on LivingTree and fully 60% of network members were contributing content, commentary, or appreciation! Briargrove has successfully resolved the disconnect parents originally felt with the school.
Briargrove’s Principal, Eden Hinds, shares: “Using the LivingTree platform, our school was able to build a much tighter community and meaningful engagement with our families. It has truly changed our level of transparency with parents and how we converse, share, and coordinate in the context of educating our children.”
Irving ISD, a district serving approximately 35,000 students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, began using LivingTree in November 2014. The district has earned a number of accolades, including being named the 2015 national Advanced Placement District of the Year; an “amazing CTE program” in the U.S.; and having its high schools recognized among the top 10% of high schools nationwide by U.S. News and World Report. The district was looking for ways to share those success stories and continue its parent engagement efforts after opening Parent Centers in each of its schools. Like many school districts across the state, Irving ISD serves a diverse student population and wanted a way to reach ALL families, regardless of home language (54 languages are spoken in Irving ISD), the parent’s education level or socioeconomic status.
Irving ISD has strong belief in the benefits of parent and community engagement, and has a stated district goal of enabling and ensuring community engagement and collaboration. Based on the results of district wide surveys of teachers, parents, and students in spring 2014, Irving ISD sought to establish digital two-way dialogue accessible via mobile application. That’s when Irving ISD decided to implement LivingTree to meet their two-way dialogue, translation, mobile, and privacy needs. “In Irving ISD we started out with 13 campuses as early adopters of LivingTree. The feedback we received from parents, principals and teachers has been incredible. It’s helped solidify parents’ trust in our schools,” says Lesley Weaver, Irving ISD’s Director of Communications.
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. http://www.livingtree.com, 844.LIV.TREE, firstname.lastname@example.org
LivingTree Acquires ClassMessenger
We’re excited to announce that we’ve acquired ClassMessenger. We’ve worked with the impressive ClassMessenger team for the past few weeks to ensure a seamless transition for ClassMessenger users. We couldn’t be more excited to welcome ClassMessenger into the LivingTree family and ClassMessenger CEO Keith McSpurren to our Advisory Board.
A quick FAQ on this exciting news from the LivingTree perspective:
Why buy ClassMessenger? – To help teachers and parents continue to engage. Our mission is to connect everyone who raises, develops, and educates children. We aim to make that as consistent and simple as possible. We had an opportunity to help 1000s of teachers maintain consistent engagement for the remainder of the school year and beyond and we decided to act.
How does ClassMessenger fit with LivingTree? – ClassMessenger’s philosophy and delivery around two way communication and engagement simplicity perfectly align with what LivingTree delivers at the class, grade, school, and district level. Welcoming ClassMessenger teachers into the LivingTree family is a perfect complement for these engaged teachers and families.
What happens to ClassMessenger now? LivingTree will provide uninterrupted service for ClassMessenger users through the end of this school year. We will reach out to introduce ourselves and welcome feedback in the new year.
What does this mean for LIvingTree users? – It means the LivingTree family has grown! The LivingTree Tiered Social Network and service you know and love is not impacted. We will continue to work with you to deliver the best engagement platform for your community.
For our ClassMessenger friends:
Why LivingTree?: LivingTree reached out with the desire to keep ClassMessenger teachers and parents engaged. Their mission and philosophy closely align with what ClassMessenger has delivered to users for the past few years. Additionally, LivingTree offers additional features and a network solution that allows teacher classrooms to plug into school and district networks which allows all engagement to thrive in a single, secure place. Finally, LivingTree plans to offer uninterrupted ClassMessenger service through the end of the school year.
About LivingTree and why the ClassMessenger team is excited about the future:
Why: LivingTree exists to connect everyone who raises, develops, and educates children. In every offering and decision, LivingTree strives to include every community member and make engagement simpler so that our children can achieve the ultimate possible.
Who / When / Where: LivingTree was founded in 2012 for the purpose of connecting communities. LivingTree was built and is run by parents and former educators out of Austin, TX. The LivingTree leadership team represents 60+ years of technology experience, 50+ years of education experience, and an abundance of passion for education and families! Schools around the world utilize LivingTree to engage their entire communities within a single network.
How / What: LivingTree builds a private, Tiered Social Network for your community with all the engagement features you need! LivingTree was recognized at the 2016 Stevie Gold Award winner for Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Stevie Silver Award winner for Smartphone App of the Year. Notable LivingTree features:
SIS Integration for automatic setup and membership updates
Free mobile apps (iphone and android)
Translation – 100+ languages
Two way group and individual conversation
Media sharing (Photos, Video, Files, etc.)
Volunteer / Sign Up management
FREE for all teachers 🙂
A “whole community on board”
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.”
There’s a PLATFORM for that
There’s an app for that. In 2016 there’s an app (or a dozen) for every need and / or want we can imagine. Education technology is no different. Every week there’s another app for behavior, communication, attendance, you name it. They’re free! The teachers will drive them! But when is enough enough? When is one more just another rock on an overflowing pile? Why are we placing more burdens on our teachers, parents, and students with too many single purpose applications? Are we trying to use an app when a platform is needed? A resounding “YES” is the answer when it comes to parent engagement.
Parent engagement is the number one driver of student success. Yet, when it comes to technology we’re letting the two-way conversation flow on public social media or offering classroom level private social media that teachers, parents, and students set up and manage themselves. Maybe we’re even doing single direction notification apps instead of anything that approaches conversation. Methodologies change from year to year. There’s a lack of consistency from classroom to classroom within a school and campus to campus within a district. We lose parents on the sheer basis of confusion and time to connect. Teachers become frustrated with lack of participation and amount of time for upkeep.
We have the technology to solve this. Taking a school or district wide platform approach resolves the engagement barriers of time and consistency. Set it up for the teachers AND parents! Integrate with the school information system and keep it up to date daily. Take the time burden away and let our educators, parents, and students focus on positive conversation and partnership. Providing a school or district wide platform with engagement features on top (media sharing, conversation, volunteer management, etc.) can take parent engagement to a whole new level. Just ask PSJA ISD or Irving ISD.
Yes, there’s an app for that – But, do you really need a platform?
Lori Genzer’s LivingTree Story
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.”
Abbey is in her seventh year of teaching, and second year at Cascadia Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. Greatly influenced by her own 5th grade teacher, Abbey became an educator because she desired to show children that learning could be a positive and exciting experience. Understanding the link between parent involvement and student success, Abbey has practiced communication with her parents throughout her career. In search of an engagement platform that guaranteed privacy, Abbey began using LivingTree for her class in the fall of 2015. Here’s Abbey’s LivingTree Story!
Describe your parent engagement strategy and methodology prior to LivingTree. “I started out by sending newsletters to my parents; then I tried Edmodo, and later, Blogspot. There was no form of privacy or security with Blogspot, and I didn’t like that. If someone was searching for our class, they could have found our site and saw the pictures and messages I posted. I was initially attracted to LivingTree because of its privacy.”
How did you find out about LivingTree? “I first heard about LivingTree through my brother. One day while helping my nephew with his homework, my brother brought up LivingTree to check the day’s homework assignment. After hearing the good things he had to say about LivingTree as a parent, I became really interested.”
Why did you decide to use a new method or tool for parent engagement? “My main issue with using a blog was that it lacked privacy. My principal wanted me to use something more secure. I also used a newsletter the first couple of years of teaching, but I didn’t like that – it felt too old school. I thought it would be nice to have something like a social network.”
What was your implementation of LivingTree like? “I thought it was simple. I didn’t read any tutorials; I just played around with the platform. I loved how easy it was for parents to join – I really, really like the printable group code sheet – I just had to print it out and hand the directions to my parents. Unlike other applications I’ve tried, my parents haven’t had trouble understanding how to use LivingTree. They were excited about how easy it was… It did take a couple of “don’t forget to check LivingTree,” reminders for my parents to get in the habit of checking the feed. At first, I was worried about the two-way conversation piece. I thought I might get an overwhelming amount of messages from parents, but I haven’t had a parent abuse this capability – Parents message me in LivingTree, and I can easily check my LivingTree inbox during class. “
What were your results using LivingTree? “I have always communicated with parents a lot; but with LivingTree, I think they have a better sense of what’s going on in the class. Parents can always look at their feed to check our calendar or scroll through posts. Before, all of the information was in a newsletter that got lost. I know my parents are using LivingTree because I receive comments and ‘likes’ on my posts. The typical emails asking, “when is this test happening?” or “when is this assignment due?” have stopped. I also just like how easy it is to share pictures. With LivingTree, it takes two seconds to share a photo post, so it is no hassle at all. It is also nice to have everything in one space – parents can go back and find everything right there.”
What feature do you use the most? “I share a lot of messages & photos throughout the week; and every Monday I’ll share a newsletter-type post with my class. We’ve been doing a postcard project all year, and so that’s an ongoing update. I use the calendar periodically for due dates, book reports, and events I want the parents to come to. I upload book reports as files, and I share a lot of photos throughout the week.”
What would you say to teachers who are hesitant to use technology for engagement? “I think technology is something that is accessible for everyone. I would say it’s a great tool for keeping parents in the know. Most parents are used to Facebook or Instagram, so they really enjoy seeing photos of their children in class. I think parents like to see what’s going on in the classroom. When they see their children happy, it makes them happy.”
What would you do if LivingTree were taken away? “I would be really sad because I like LivingTree a lot. I do know I would stick with something safe and secure!”
What one thing would you say about LivingTree to others? “I would definitely say it’s easy! I’m a big fan of things that aren’t complicated. It’s easy and organized, which are the two biggest things for me. And my parents love it – they feel like they’re a part of the classroom. I don’t have to stress out when I forget to share information because I can just make a quick post at home with my phone.”
7 Ways the LivingTree App Increases Parent Engagement
7 Ways the LivingTree App Increases Parent Engagement
Let’s get real: It’s time for us to implement a teacher-to-parent communication app that is used on both sides of the conversation. And not just the über-involved room parents or those glued to their smartphones—all the parents.
We think LivingTree can be the answer.
LivingTree is a free desktop and mobile app that is easy to install, intuitive to use and therefore increases the actual usage by your students’ parents, allowing you to reach and connect with every family. When we ask parents and caregivers to use multiple apps—one for classroom sign-ups, another for behavior reports, still another for text notifications—total use goes down. LivingTree enables us to wipe the slate clean and give our parents one place to get all the information they need, fostering a true partnership between school and home.
Here are the LivingTree features we think you and your students’ families will appreciate:
1. Text Notifications If there is one way to make parents’ lives easier, it’s quick, efficient texts such as “Reminder: No instrumental music tomorrow!” or “Remember to bring a sack lunch for the field trip.” We like how LivingTree gives teachers complete control over how to send notifications to parents, so you can tailor those updates for your classroom culture and students’ ages.
2. Calendar Parents receive numerous calendars—from you the teacher, from school, from the PTA, even after-school clubs. Give your parent community the gift of all events and schedules in one central location. The LivingTree calendar is easy for teachers to update (you can easily load iCals and sync with Outlook and Google Calendar), and the calendar is front and center on the app for parents.
3. Options for District Integration Unlike some apps that focus only on stand-alone classrooms, LivingTree has the ability to set up school- and district-wide integration. This long-game thinking can increase communication beyond the single school year, as well as successfully connect with parents who have children in multiple classrooms and schools. District and school leadership can set up accounts and provide teachers with logins, truly centralizing information.
4. Closed Network for Group Conversations Forget establishing a separate Facebook, Google or Yahoo! group for your classroom. Instead, house your class “list serv” right on the app the parents are already checking for updates and assignments. The conversation feature increases engagement with your students’ parents as well as creates a community of your classroom’s families.
5. Direct Messaging In addition to the group convos, LivingTree allows parents to directly message you with their suggestions and concerns. The ease of one-to-one communication within the app makes true connections with the parents easier and more likely to happen; now they will not have to leave your classroom app in order to e-mail you in a separate tab. It’s just another way to deepen trust and relationships with parents.
6. Language Translation How many different languages are spoken in your school community? Want to connect with all of them? LivingTree has translation capabilities for 40+ different languages. Whether your parents speak Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese or Farsi, you can count on being able to communicate with them when you use LivingTree. There’s no better way to build relationships than to reach out to people in their own language.
7. Photo Sharing Want to really connect with families? Post regular photos of the students in the classroom! LivingTree provides an easy-to-access hub for images of student activities. Parents are sure to log on and feel more connected if there is the potential to catch a glimpse of their kids learning and exploring.
Parents’ engagement in their children’s education is the single biggest marker for improved literacy and students’ long-term success. Anything that provides an easily navigable path for increased parent involvement and fosters greater community between school and home is worth trying, and LivingTree does both well.
Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. (NEAtoday.org)
Parents are their children’s most important people in their education career and teachers are second. In my personal conversations with other parents, I have learned that how well they ‘like’ their child’s teacher strongly depends on the communication they have with the teacher. Typically, parents want information about how their child is learning, what their child is learning and how they behave in class. It is also important for parents to share with teachers how the child is doing at home, if any important changes would affect the child at school. Open communication between these parties will lead to more engagement which will benefit the student.
In a study listed in the Economics of Education Review, it was reported that communication as simple as a weekly one-sentence teacher-to-parent messaging intervention reduced the percentage of students who failed summer courses from 16% to 9%. Parental engagement is correlated with student performance. If the example above is telling of what simple communication can do, it would be to the benefit of all students to improve parent-teacher communication.
There’s still one piece missing. Language. Many times, especially in the Latino community, parents aren’t engaged simply because of the difficulty of communicating with faculty who don’t speak the same language. Often, the student is expected to translate between parents and teachers. This obviously has its flaws.
How can parent-teacher communication improve to ensure that all parties work together for the student’s education?
One place to start is taking a look at how an online resource like LivingTree could serve your family and school. LivingTree is a single, private and secure place to connect and coordinate via conversations (messages, photos, files, links), shared calendar (volunteer management, notifications, reminders, and more), private messaging, and more. LivingTree extends learning beyond the classroom to further develop children through building community relationships.
Since we are all busy and always on-the-go, any communication tool serves the user better when it can be accessed from mobile devices. The LivingTree network platform can be accessed via the web, or any iPhone or Android product. It supports translation in 40+ languages and is built on the latest web and mobile technologies and backed by a highly scalable cloud deployment.
Parents can type and receive messages in their native language while teachers can type and receive messages in English. As the Hispanic population continues to grow in the United States, this is an important issue to address. Parents deserve to have easier communication with their child’s teachers despite a difference in language.
WATCH the testimonial from Irving ISD below:
LivingTree takes student-parent communication beyond ‘school was fine’
When parents ask kids about their school day, they often get a generic, succinct response. Tired of being left in the dark as parents, Cullen Childress and Krishna Sai founded LivingTree, a private, secure and hierarchical social network that enables convenient communication among parents, teachers, students, schools, districts and community organizations.
“It became tremendously painful when our children were younger that a lot of those organizations were still using the early 2000s way to communicate,” LivingTree President Joni Carswell said. “It was very difficult to stay on the same page as a family and to keep all the balls in the air at the same time.”
Carswell said the LivingTree team identified the following communication roadblocks: basic websites, lack of mobile presence, paper flyers and emails where everyone replies to all.
LivingTree’s mobile and web apps eliminate those outdated methods — and does much more.
Built by parents, for parents
Instead of just wondering about the absence of Web 2.0 technology and social media, LivingTree took matters into their own hands. They built a network that allows two-way conversation. It is built hierarchically, like an organization. Each grouping receives relevant information, and everyone part of a group — a class, for example — can converse.
So far, so good. After being founded in 2012, LivingTree launched beta testing in Texas during the 2012-2013 school year. Now districts around the world — from Texas, Maryland and New York to Australia and Switzerland — use LivingTree, resulting in a user base of more than 200,000 people.
Teachers share pictures from the day. They post homework assignments, request chaperones and remind users about field trip permission slips and report cards.
“As a parent, you connect to a class and share a multidirectional connection with the teacher and other parents,” Carswell said. “Instead of getting that two-word answer from your son, you actually get a picture of what they were doing.”
Carswell said teachers can share information with students, parents or both groups. She said parents can view but not interact with information shared with only students. Parents can see how students communicate digitally and help them improve.
Practical for schools and districts, too
The benefits of LivingTree extend to schools, districts and community organizations.
For example, schools easily send weather alerts or announcements about school achievements, be them academic, artistic or athletic. Districts send push notifications to their schools. Community organizations — such as little league teams — spread information on LivingTree.
Furthermore, LivingTree provides engagement analytics to schools and districts, allowing them to properly monitor their networks, a valuable feature especially in Texas, where Carswell said schools must conduct a self-assessment on community engagement each summer. Because of the analytics, and because LivingTree essentially sets up an entire network for schools and districts, LivingTree charges those parties a license fee that varies based on a district’s student count.
LivingTree also makes revenue via training, Carswell said. The network is free for students, parents and teachers.
Safe, secure and growing
Just because it’s free, however, doesn’t mean LivingTree is unsafe. In truth, LivingTree distinguishes itself through security, Carswell said.
LivingTree integrates with a district’s student information system, and if someone is not in that system, they’re not connected. In addition, users must be invited via email to join a group.
“Every district wants a mobile app, but they’re not thinking about what happens when you can just download it and all the information is there at your fingertips,” Carswell said. “I can download an app, get notices on where students are and photos of the students, and I’m not connected to that district in any way, which is very scary as a parent.”
LivingTree’s invite-only and district data-based model eliminates that threat, a trait that surely contributes to LivingTree’s rapid growth.
Since beta testing, LivingTree has experienced 9x growth each school year. Carswell hopes to have 15x growth from today by year end.
Though she said that goal is lofty, Carswell believes LivingTree is equipped to achieve it, backed by a quality product, an angel investor who has contributed two undisclosed rounds, and 22 dedicated team members.
“The way we communicate today — via email or social media like Facebook or Google Plus — is all one-to-one. You go find a person and you connect with them. You can do groups, but you build them one by one,” Carswell said. “LivingTree is very different. If I connect with my son’s school via a classroom, I’m automatically part of the correct grade level, the correct school and the correct district.”