Go to any school sporting event, sit in any medical or dental office waiting room or watch families in parks, at malls, grocery stores or just about everywhere and you’ll notice something: A lot of people use smartphones.
When Valerie Behm heard that there will be some 2 billion smartphone users by 2016 — and that number is expected to triple by 2020 — the public relations specialist for Lowell Area Schools knew it was time to get in front of families the way more and more of them go online: by picking up their phones.
“We’re trying to tell our story and to stay connected with our families, and they’re just not going to the website as much, because more than two or three clicks and you’ve lost them,” Behm said. “We needed a more powerful tool.”
The district launched a free mobile app on Nov. 30 — Cyber Monday — that makes it easier for on-the-go parents and busy students to check out just about everything having to do with the district.
Handy, Valuable Uses
Users can view school news (including School News Network), see what their children are having for school lunch, listen to the high school radio station, receive instant notifications such as snow-day alerts, access the district directory and display information personalized to their interests. Plus, parents and students can view grades, assignments and attendance and easily find staff contact information. Not to mention athletics: practices, competitions and scores, all at the press of an icon.
District parent Victoria Fleenor said the app has made keeping track of school stuff more streamlined and has cleaned up her smartphone.
“I had all these different shortcuts and apps I used to track my kids’ progress, grades and schedules, so this greatly simplifies things,” she said. “Now I don’t have to figure out where things are, or what email I saved the linkin. It’s all in one place. It’s like giving (parents) a toolkit.”
Not only does the app draw current parents and students, it’s designed to market to prospective district families, Behm said. Those people — and real estate agents — can download the app, enter a street or address and find out which district schools those who live there can attend. The app also includes Schools of Choice information and the application to attend Lowell Area Schools, as well as district demographics and a virtual tour.
If it sounds like the app was prohibitively expensive to create, Behm said much of the information was pushed to the app from the district’s website and that the cost was less than $2,000 — though the amount of work she did would have kept a part-time employee busy for a year, she added. But the district couldn’t afford not to invest in a technology so many people are using, Behm said, and maintaining and updating the content is part of her job.
“Let’s face it, people can choose where to send their kids to school these days, so we figure we had better do a great job getting information out there in exactly the ways people want to get that information. And it’s information that’s so meaningful and current, people will want to return.”
A little more than two weeks after the app went live, 760 people had downloaded it.
Behm said the district doesn’t consider it a value-added item, but a necessary tool that every district parent and even students should have.
“Innovation’s a big word in education, especially when it comes to getting our students career-ready,” she said. “If we’re not willing to innovate ourselves, that’s saying a lot.”
The Lowell Area Schools app is available on the district’s website or at the iTunes App Store.