Bridging the Gap

Connecting Educators Via Students

Bridging the Gap: Connecting Educators Via Students 

Written by:

Quyen Truong, Mentor, Artists For Humanity

Lauren Rubenzahl, Media Educator, Center on Media and Child Health 

Goal:

To facilitate connections between adults—such as teachers, principals, service providers, and parents—who most directly affect the lives of children and youth so that together they can provide the best effective possible support. To create coordination via a database to inform educators, in school and out of school, regarding how to best approach the learning needs of individual students. 

1) Statement of Need

Children and youth need multiple spaces where they are primed to succeed. How do we align families, educators, and service providers so that they all can play roles in children and youth's lives as needed, and that complement each other? How do we provide safe and nurturing spaces where transformative learning intentionally occurs for every young person’s future success? 

The answer lies in creating and supporting communities of mentors, adults who know a given child well and who care deeply about his or her success. Many mentorships, whether formal or informal, already exist, but when mentors in a given child’s life are connected with each other, they can even more effectively meet the needs of that child. By connecting to each other the adults who already serve as mentors in youth’s lives, we can help ensure that young people are supported in their development, from as many angles as possible. 

We propose creating systemic ways to empower all the stakeholders to communicate and to work together for the well-being of a given young person. 
 

2) Proposed Innovation

Challenge: Adults see only the slice of any given child’s life to which they have direct access, and it can be logistically difficult to connect with a child's other mentors in order to address and care for the whole child. Specifically, identifying and contacting the other adults in a child’s life (whether those adults are teachers, coaches, mentors, or parents) is not always easy. When they are unable to connect, those who work with children and youth lose the opportunity to form a supportive community of adults for each student, and students do not receive the benefits of such a network. 

Solution: Create a city-wide database system that displays contact information for each student’s teachers, program staff, and other mentors. Access to this database will allow the educators and mentors in a student’s life to locate and contact one another with ease, thus streamlining communication. It will also allow for a stronger network of adults invested in each student’s life and enable all mentors and educators to work together to support the student. 

Details: At the beginning of the school year, each student in BPS will fill out a brief online survey that collects the following information (Note: students must provide this information primarily in order to identify their interests--the rest is identifying information):

•    Student name

•    Neighborhood

•    School name

•    Areas of interest

The remaining relevant information—including the names of that student's teachers and their contact information—will be uploaded automatically from the school’s (or the district’s) database of information on each student. 

In addition, each CBO that works with any BPS students will fill out a brief online survey. CBOs will only be listed in the database when they are attached to a BPS student. Thus, an educator looking for a CBO for a particular student will only find CBOs currently working with BPS students. This set-up will help CBOs recruit students and, thus, encourage them to contribute to the database. The CBO survey will collect the following information:

•    CBO name and type

•    Neighborhood

•    Names of BPS students involved

•    Names of the mentors who work directly with each student

•    Contact information

In order to minimize work and data-entry, both surveys will automatically populate the database with the information they collect. This approach will also reduce human error. 

This model requires buy-in from the mentors and educators involved, as it will need to be updated as often as a student’s information (including interests, teachers, etc.) changes. In a student’s profile, information such as teacher, educational interests, and extracurricular program information will be archived and available from year to year. That way, all those who access the database can see who else was involved in the youth’s life in earlier years. However, neighborhood and contact information will be updated whenever it changes, and only the most recent information will be available.

Sample Chart

Student name: John Smith   Student ID number: 00001

Grade 1st 2nd 3rd 4th  5th
School          
Teacher(s)          
Email address          
Phone number          
Interests          
Home information          
Neighborhood          
Parent/Guardian name          
Parent/Guardian contact info          
Extracurricular Program          
Type          
Mentor          
Email address          
Phone number          
 
 

Sample student survey:

    Student information

Which school do you attend? (Drop down menu)

What neighborhood do you live in? (Drop down menu)

What grade are you in? (Drop down menu)

Who is your teacher(s)? (Several drop down menus, as many students will have multiple teachers. This menu will narrow the choices based on school and grade level.)

What are you interested in? (Several drop down menus. Also an “Other” option, which, when clicked, triggers a fill-box to show up.)

    After-school activity information

After-school activities

Name of after-school organization(s)

Organization type(s) (Drop down menu)

After-school adult contact name

Who is your mentor there? (Fill-in box)

    Parent/Guardian information

Parent/Guardian contact name(s):

Parent/Guardian contact information: 

Sample CBO survey:

Name of your organization

Neighborhood in which it’s located

Type of organization

Names of BPS students involved

Names of mentors who work with each student 
 

3) First Steps & Resources Required

Year One: Planning phase

-Talk to people. Identify and connect with others (e.g., Lisa Harvey, who is working on DELTAS MIS) who are already tackling coordination issues and who are interested in software and database solutions. Coordinate our efforts so that we avoid duplicating work and so that we can most effectively address the issues at hand.

-Gather input on how to encourage buy-in from all involved parties. One of the challenges of this proposal is to ensure participation from principals, teachers, and the others who will use the database. We will need help to figure out how to address this issue. We will use this input to create a marketing campaign or other outreach initiative to garner buy-in and participation, thus making the project a success.

Year Two: Piloting phase

-Pilot the strategy and a limited database in one community (e.g., East Boston).

-Evaluate the process throughout, and use participants' feedback to adjust the approach to such elements as data entry, information gathered, and outreach methods.

Year Three: Expanding and Sustaining phase

-Roll out the piloted and revised program on a large scale, to all of BPS. This includes collecting the following information and importing it into the database:

    a) Boston CBOs and staff contact (email addresses and phone numbers).

    b) BPS and teacher contacts.

    c) Names of all youth in BPS system, showing the progression of their academic and extracurricular activities by year. The system would NOT disclose grades, MCAS scores, or private information such as home address, phone number, or Social Security number. The information provided is only enough to connect parents, teachers, and CBOs.

-Even as it is being populated, this database would be searchable by any item in the matrix, allowing interested people to see relevant information about the people involved in the youth’s academic and extracurricular activities, and identify areas for collaboration. This information allows teachers and service providers to easily access each other’s contact information to communicate about how to effectively engage and support youth. 
 

Resources Required:

-Database software (or a custom database)

-Server space for the database

-Access to names, grade levels, and nominal information about each student’s BPS history

-Survey software that can directly populate the database

-Contact information for teachers and program staff

*Get CBOs to sign in to update database and share who is in their programs

-A staff member or an intern (perhaps drawing from those doing senior theses in computer science at a local university or from a Master’s program in computer science) to coordinate and build the database and to maintain it

-Privacy/Security software 
 

4) Impact 

Practicality: Needs resources to start up but few to maintain and update. One software option is Google Docs, which is free and easily accessible online to everyone. It also allows for users to control the privacy settings and only allow trusted people to view the information. 

Innovation: Systemic databases have long been an idea by educators and policy makers. However, identifying who to build the database, how to gather relevant information, and how to keep privacy intact continues to challenge the creation of databases that share private information about students’ grades and test scores. This database is solely in place to connect educators, parents, and engaged community members with each other. As such, it only provides information relevant to email and phone contact. 

Impact:

- CBOs will be informed by historical trends to consider where to target recruitment.

- Adults will be able to share best practices about working with individual students, which can help them differentiate instruction based on student needs.

- Students will feel that several adults care deeply about their success, which provides a great deal of motivation for them.

- If adults use the database to communicate with each other, adults will have a better understanding of the whole child and will be able to form stronger relationships with students, resulting in:

    - greater ambitions (mentorship research)

    - healthier behaviors (as measured by MYRBS and School Climate Surveys)

    - more open communication

    - preventive problem-solving

    - greater self-confidence

-Knowing student educational and extracurricular history enables teachers to effectively incentivize students to succeed in schools. For example, knowing what motivates youth will help push them toward achieving those goals. Knowing that a student wants to play football but needs to pass classes to do so can help teachers motivate that student—especially if they and the football coach work together toward that goal.

-Information about what students already learned in previous years—what they studied, who taught them, etc.—helps teachers adjust lessons and prevents redundancy. It gives teachers a place to start as they build lesson plans at the beginning of each year.

-Provides teachers with information about their students on day one; allows service providers access to students’ educational history and contact with all educators in a youth’s life.