Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Beginning April 5, parents will have a direct link with Moorhead area public schools in their purse or back pocket.
That’s when the brand-new MAPS app goes live, says Brenda Richman, who has been studying ways to bring families closer to their children’s schools since she joined the district in 2019. Along with the new program for mobile devices, a redesigned version of the district’s website (moorheadschools.org) will also debut that day.
When Richman joined the staff two years ago, Superintendent Brandon Lunak’s goal was – she explains – to take a strategic approach to the district’s communications. “We did a complete audit,” she explains. “What’s working well? Where are the opportunities to do better?”
After gathering input from administrators, school leaders, teachers and parents through focus groups and surveys, she says, some lessons stood out: “They told us our website was hard to navigate. Our regular push notifications contained too much – if they were looking for high school basketball, they might have to scroll 19 times to get to the bottom.
“In a desire to maintain a high degree of transparency, there had gotten to be just too much information,” she says, pointing to 20 years’ worth of “We Are Proud” posts.
Times have changed since the district became an early adopter of internet communications, adopting the secure PowerSchool program for internal communication of grades and other matters in 2001. Back then, most users accessed the web on their desktop computers. Today, 75% to 80% say their mobile devices are their preferred means of communication.
So Richman and communications specialist Chelsea Diederich set out to reach their audience where they’re at today. Beginning last July with the selection of digital application developer Apptegy, they have used its platform and framework to build an app uniquely linked to MAPS.
The information Moorhead parents needs and want most will be just a tap or two away, Chelsea explained, with the MAPS app. (Their program can’t officially bear that snappy little name, though, due to possible confusion with Google Maps.)
The free app will be available in the iStore and Google Apps when it goes live Monday, April 5. Once downloaded and installed, it reveals an interface quickly customized to the parent’s situation.
One big advantage, Diederich pointed out, is that it breaks the language barrier that has increasingly with the many new Americans whose children attend local schools. The app senses the language to which the smartphone or tablet is set, then automatically performs translations from English to the four major languages spoken by students’ families – Kurdish, Somali, Arabic and Spanish. (About 47 languages are represented in Moorhead classrooms, she adds, but most have a much smaller number of native speakers.)
Richman explains that the app offers a way to cut through the clutter of too much information: “It will provide you with segmented, targeted information – just what you want, when you want it.” Parents select the school or schools which their youngsters attend. That permits them to connect directly with each campus’s unique feed, including school news, updates, the events calendar and even that day’s hot lunch menu. Each school controls and can post its own content, including news items and live feeds, much like social media. The app also contains a link to PowerSchool, though a username and password are required to access the private information it contains.
“We can also do push notifications directly to parents,” Richman notes. It offers direct, immediate communication with parents without having to go through the app.
Diederich emphasizes that the MAPS app is extremely user-friendly, even for the older generations. “As long as you know how to download an app for Apple or Android, you’ll be able to use it,” she assures the technologically timid.
If not, you can always ask your kids.