Service offers new way to connect with parents

The service is all being paid for out of pocket by the teachers, who hope to broaden their reach this year to more teachers and more organizations.

A handful of teachers in Hawaii are using a new service that allows them to blast a text message to parents, who can then text back.

Mark McDonald, 23, debuted the program in his Aiea High classroom at the start of this school year, sending parents reminders about everything from upcoming assignments to grades. Almost immediately, McDonald said, parents were making the communication two-way, texting him back with questions on how their child could do better or if missed work could be made up.

When McDonald began teaching English at Aiea in 2010, he struggled with how to involve parents. Parent engagement was next to nonexistent, despite his best attempts, so he had no way of knowing whether parents were getting his letters home, seeing their children’s grades or reviewing progress reports.

To address the problem, McDonald teamed up with a fellow teacher, Max Sack, and employed the help of a friend who is a computer programmer to start an online service that allows teachers to send text-message blasts to parents — and receive responses from them through a proxy telephone number.

Cellphones, McDonald and Sack reasoned, are more ubiquitous than computers and internet connections — which not all parents have access to — and more practical than printed notes sent home.

Since quietly went live late last year, about 20 teachers (most in Hawaii), along with a handful of churches and other organizations, have signed up for the service, which education technology experts are calling a novel way to improve communication between parents and teachers and get students more connected to what’s going on in the classroom.

McDonald’s 11th- and 12th-graders signed up to get reminders about assignments or texts on whether the class was meeting in the library or computer lab. Like their parents, students started texting back, using the service to get real-time homework help or clarifications on assignments.

But the experts also caution that the program should be brought into classrooms with care, given several high-profile incidents nationally involving teachers who crossed the line with students, sending out explicit texts or online messages. Equally important, they said, is ensuring student privacy – and that the parent being sent text messages is entitled to the information.

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