Alert Solutions Blog

School Lunch Debt: Can Your Students Afford Lunch?

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 @ 11:04 AM

Did you know 100,000 schools and education institutions across the country provide lunch to 30 million students each day? That’s a lot of cafeteria school lunches! According to the National School Lunch Program, of those 30 million students the program estimates as many as 20 million students receive their lunch for free, 2 million pay a reduced price of 40 cents, and 8 million pay the full price. These incredible statistics are shocking to those who don’t often think about school lunch debt.

Some K-12 school districts are reimbursed this school lunch debt by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which pays schools for lunch expenditures based on the number of students paying full price, reduced price, or are receiving the meal for free. This only occurs if the schools are part of the federal school lunch program.

School Lunch

Students who are not enrolled in a federally subsidized meal plan at their school typically have accounts in which they put money for school breakfasts and lunches. As with any account, once the money is gone the bills will accumulate. This is where school lunch debt begins. The New Food Academy tells us, “…that (school lunch) debt accrual puts an increasing burden on schools that bear it, sometimes to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single district. In late December, The Washington Post reported that K-12 students in the D.C. area owe a collective $500,000 in unpaid lunch debt for the first semester of the current academic year alone.”

School lunch costs vary by the school district and state, but according to New Food Academy, on average a single meal costs students $2.48 at the elementary school level and $2.74 at the high school level. Although this price doesn’t sound like a lot, it adds up for families providing for multiple children. Lunches can be expensive and lead to school lunch debt.

Frances Frost, a mother in Maryland, spoke openly to the Atlantic and talked about the various permission slips, picture day fliers, and field trip notices she receives on a daily basis. She had unfortunately missed the reminder on refilling her daughter’s school lunch account. She says “…the lunch server graciously let Natalie keep her selected hot lunch with a reminder to bring money for her meal account.” This isn’t always the norm.  There have been discussions on how school lunch shaming is happening in some schools and districts, which is when the cafeteria workers refuse a student lunch as they do not have any money in their account.

This “shaming” sometimes subjects children to the embarrassment of returning their lunch due to insufficient funds.  According to The Atlantic, “Last year in Bedford, Kentucky, parents complained and accused the local elementary school of “bullying” after a child’s lunch was confiscated and thrown away in front of her friends for running a negative balance. Dominic Gant, a high-schooler in Dowagiac, Michigan, was left embarrassed and hungry when his lunch was taken and trashed for owing $4.95. A 12-year-old in Dickinson, Texas had his school breakfast dumped over a 30 cent debt…” The stories continue. Although school lunch debts can seriously add up and create a financial burden for school districts, the shaming and bullying of children who owe money should not occur.

Alert Solutions may have a fix for this problem. Our school notification system, SwiftK12, allows administrators to set up automated alerts to go home to parents, including low lunch balance alerts. The  low lunch balance alert feature can automatically send parents an email, voice call or text message with the student’s name and the remaining dollar amount. Parents can also choose their preferred communication method to make sure they receive and read the notification.

With this feature, school administrators can:

  • Set up different fee alerts based on the balance level
  • Reduce manual staff labor, freeing up time
  • Easily recover unpaid balances, restoring a healthier cash flow for your K-12 school district
  • Notify and engage with parents more effectively
  • Cut down on paper costs

Free up staff from the tedious task of fee reminders and effectively recover unpaid balances with this helpful tool. Ready to learn more?

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Topics: student health, school notifications, school announcement, educational technology, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, school programs, parent communication

4 Ways for K-12 Schools to Go Green for Earth Day

Posted by Philip Young on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 @ 08:04 AM

Earth Day is an international awareness event focused on preserving the environment’s natural resources from the negative impact of industrialization. There are many ways people can go green and take action, including attending marches, signing petitions, getting involved in local politics, cleaning up litter or waste in public spaces, or working in community gardens.

Earth Day

Across the United States, local K-12 schools have a unique opportunity to participate in Earth Day. This year, the holiday falls on Monday, April 22nd, and it’s the perfect time of year for administrators, teachers, students, and staff to look into new ways to go green.

Prioritizing sustainability in K-12 settings is a practice that will improve the community as a whole. Students will take these lessons home, and consider their individual impact on the global climate outside of the classroom. It’s also an opportunity to reassess school functions, both on an administrative level and in the classroom. Schools are likely to find new ways that technology fits into the picture while exploring eco-friendly options, and these solutions will improve operations for their district. By going digital, administrators can further reduce waste on school grounds while increasing access and convenience for students and parents.

Four Ways K-12 Schools can Go Green for Earth Day

  1. School-Wide Recycling Initiatives
    One of the most essential ways K-12 schools reduce waste is recycling. Luckily, there are several ways schools can make recycling a priority, starting with a student-led recycling club. Putting students in charge of collecting and emptying recycling bins is an excellent way to empower young people to be active participants in green initiatives. By making recycling a chance for students to hang out with friends and be social, the community will be more motivated to participate. Teachers, students, and custodians working together will reduce the number of recyclables wasted or put in landfills, but it is also another way to strengthen a sense of community.

    Schools also have an opportunity to find fun and unique ways to reduce recyclable waste. For example, art teachers can integrate old newspapers, magazines, and other discarded paper goods into classroom projects. Many crafts and classroom activities integrate recyclable materials, including hanging bottle gardens, creating bracelets or other accessories from newspapers, making a rainbow made from bottle caps, or using old cans and pots to create classroom organizers.
  1. Invest in Clean Energy
    K-12 schools across the United States are exploring ways to utilize green energy, such as installing solar panels on roofs and using electric buses. Schools make ideal candidates for solar power panels since they only require energy during the day when the sun is shining, and because they often have the roof size required for installation, as per the New York Times. The main barrier to access electric solar panels is financial, but costs are coming down. If a school does have funding for the installation, the panels can help the building save money on electric bills in the long run.

    Electric buses are an option school systems are  beginning to explore in the United States, though they’ve long been popular abroad. These buses provide a valuable alternative to diesel because they don’t expose children to soot or other harmful pollutants. Unfortunately, these vehicles are still twice or three times as expensive as traditional buses, but K-12 schools can potentially make up that money in low fuel and maintenance costs. These green solutions might not be viable in every community, but students, teachers, and administrators can advocate for clean energy funds on the local and state level.
  1. Start a Community Garden
    A community garden is a great idea for school systems looking to bgo green. Gardens help decrease air temperature, increase property value, and have the potential to provide fresh food to supplement school lunches, which reduces carbon emissions by cutting down on transport. There are also mental health benefits to gardening. Being in nature is therapeutic, and the sense of responsibility gardening provides can have a positive impact on mental health for students. Dedicating even a small amount of resources and class time to a school-wide garden space can help cultivate a healthier, greener community.
  1. Go Paperless
    Schools tend to use a lot of paper for bureaucratic and communication purposes. From student health files to detention or late slips to report cards, a lot of paper is used in the daily management of a school. Administrators can eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of paper waste by migrating systems into the digital sphere.

    Luckily, technology provides plenty of paperless methods for communication. A school notification system like SwiftK12 can send voice, e-mail, social media and SMS Text alerts that keep students informed of changes in scheduling or developing emergency situations in the community. Also, our Secure Document Delivery feature can help schools drastically cut paper use by sending report cards, student transcripts, and other timely notifications electronically.  

Not only will investing in digital communication make for an eco-friendly campus, it has also been shown to result in reduced truancy, better parent engagement and more transparency between staff and student families.

SwiftK12 Brochure Download

Topics: earth day, environment, school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, go green

Autism Awareness Month: How Can Your School Promote Acceptance?

Posted by Philip Young on Tue, Apr 02, 2019 @ 09:04 AM

Today is Autism Awareness Day, and the month of April is Autism Awareness Month!

Autism Awareness

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is defined as a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication, and repetitive disorders.  There are many different subtypes of autism which are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Some people can live entirely independently with little support, and some require a significant amount of support in their day-to-day lives.

Autism Speaks shares autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the U.S. today, and the indicators of autism often appear by age 2 or 3. There can be developmental delays that appear sooner which leads to an earlier diagnosis. The sooner the diagnosis, the sooner early intervention can start. Research has made it clear that high-quality early intervention can improve learning, communication and social skills, as well as underlying brain development.

Texas Autism Society shares since the 1970’s the Autism Society have been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month (NAAM) to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism. The month of April is a great opportunity for K-12 schools and educators to teach students about autism and issues within the autism community. There are many ways for students to support their peers in school who may have autism, and raise both acceptance and awareness within the school community.

6 Ways to Promote Awareness During Autism Awareness Month

The Texas Autism Society has several great ideas that are fairly simple for K-12 schools to implement during April to raise awareness:

  • Share Autism Facts
    Consider sharing several autism facts on puzzle pieces around the school and mention these facts on the morning announcements for everybody to hear. You could hang the puzzle pieces on hallway walls or post them on a bulletin board for students and faculty to see.
  • Invite Guest Speakers
    Bring guest speakers into school to present to students. “Speakers can be people on the spectrum, family members of individuals with autism, or professionals in the field.” Your K-12 school could hold a special assembly for these presentations.
  • Autism Awareness Shirts
    Encourage your students and faculty to wear a certain color or specific autism awareness shirt one day of the week.
  • Showcase Autism Awareness Books
    Ask your school library to showcase books about Autism on display throughout the month of April. A few books mentioned by Texas Autism Society include: The Autism Acceptance Book by Ellen Sabin, Tobin Learns to Make Friends by Diane Murrell, Of Mice and Aliens by Kathy Hoopman, and Wishing on the Midnight Star by Nancy Ogaz. For a larger book suggestion list, click here.
  • Autism Movie
    Show a movie about autism during a lunch period or in the classroom. A few movies mentioned by Texas Autism Society include: Life Animated, Autism the Musical, Best Kept Secret, Family Next Door, Rain Man, Jack and the Red Hearts, Autism in Love, and The Story of Luke.
  • Create an Autism Ambassador Club
    Autism New Jersey has an Autism Ambassador Program that has a significant impact on increasing the acceptance of autism. “Ambassadors of all ages engage their communities by creating informational displays and presentations in their schools and workplaces, organizing successful fundraising events, and enlisting the support of legislators and state officials throughout April, National Autism Awareness Month.”

Spreading awareness doesn’t only need to happen in school. Get your students’ parents involved by sending home friendly reminders with your school notification system. SwiftK12 allows school administrators and teachers the ability to send messages home using parent-preferred communication methods such as text, emails, social media, and phone calls.

Make this month the biggest and best Autism Awareness Month your school has ever seen!

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Topics: student health, school announcement, educational technology, power announcement, powerschool, school programs

National Nutrition Month: 5 Ways Your Class Can Celebrate

Posted by Tara Gibson on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 @ 09:03 AM

March is National Nutrition Month! The Academy of Nutrition and Diabetics created this yearly campaign to encourage people to focus their attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. With students spending the majority of their time in schools, what better place to teach and promote healthy eating and exercise? Educating children of the significance of a proper diet is very important, as a child’s nutrition and lifestyle habits have a direct effect on every function of their body.  

Students on Field Trip - National Nutrition Month

Teaching kids the skills they need to make these proper food choices will help them develop lifelong healthy eating patterns. NCBI tells us “Healthy eating habits among adolescents and children are essential for healthy growth, cognitive development and other aspects of health and wellbeing.” These good habits have also been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases.

The School Nutrition Association shares the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 “required the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update federal nutrition standards for school meals”. These updated rules went into effect in July 2012 and require K-12 schools to offer students larger portions of fruits and veggies with every lunch, grains offered with meals must be whole-grain rich, meals must meet age-appropriate calorie minimums and maximums, sodium levels must meet certain limits, and meals cannot contain added trans-fat. Full guidelines can be found here.

Although the guidelines may seem to be rather strict, this doesn’t mean schools aren’t feeding their students delicious meals. Popular menu items such as pizza and macaroni are still served, but have had slight makeovers. For example, school pizza is now required to be prepared with whole grain crust, low-fat cheese, and reduced sodium sauce.

5 Ways K-12 Schools Can Celebrate National Nutrition Month

There are fun ways to teach your students about nutrition in the classroom. Have a good time and celebrate National Nutrition Month with these 5 ideas from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  1. Take a Field Trip
    A field trip to a local farmers market or farm is a great way to get out of the classroom and celebrate National Nutrition Month. Introduce your students to healthy organic foods such as fruits and veggies grown locally! TeachHub also suggests a supermarket scavenger hunt as another field trip idea. “As you walk through the supermarket aisles, ask students to point out healthy foods that belong to each group on the food plate. Then, for a fun activity, divide students into groups and hand each group a list of healthy foods to search for.”

  2. Food Group Project
    For National Nutrition Month consider a group project in which you assign teams of students to different food groups. Have your students research their food groups in depth and present the nutrition facts to the class. This way they’re learning about their own food group, and also learning from their peers about the several other food groups.

  3. Taste Test
    What better way to get students to try new foods than a taste test! Cut up several different fruits and veggies into bite-size pieces and have your class try one of each. Be sure to check that there are no allergies in your class. After the taste test have the children participate in an open discussion amongst each other and then vote on their favorites with an explanation as to why!

  4. Food Product Boxes
    Another idea for National Nutrition Month is to have your classroom save empty boxes of food and bring them into class. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the class should “Spend some time reading labels and comparing information in the Nutrition Facts panels. Expand into a menu-planning opportunity, individually or in teams.”

  5. Tip of the Day
    Get parents involved! Consider sending home nutrition tips or trivia questions through your school notification platform and encourage parents to keep the nutrition discussion going outside of the classroom. You could even try sending home healthy recipes to try out. Getting parents and guardians involved will help solidify these healthy eating habits, which will only result in good outcomes as a child grows. For an extra incentive we suggest giving out prizes to the students and parents who participate!

At Alert Solutions we want all K-12 schools and districts to understand the importance of teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating habits, and why it is essential for healthy growth and cognitive development. Our school notification platform, SwiftK12, is a great way to communicate with parents outside of the classroom to keep the nutrition conversation going. 

Interested in learning more? Download our brochure today!

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Topics: student health, school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, parent engagement

Could Digital Learning Games Help K-12 Educators?

Posted by Philip Young on Mon, Mar 11, 2019 @ 12:03 PM

In a world where technology is taking over, K-12 educators are looking for new and exciting ways to make their classes fun and engaging. This is being done with the help of digital learning games.  

Digital Learning Games in the Classroom

To put it simply, a digital learning game is a self-guided game that promotes a variety of educational subject matters. These games could relate to subjects such as history, math, science, and more. Instead of teachers lecturing at the front of the classroom, students are encouraged to take an autonomous approach to learning. This student-centered method allows students to generate their own knowledge and receive information through the game itself.

How Do Teachers Feel About Digital Learning Games?

The response to digital learning games was not always as positive as it is today. Many educators were hesitant to stray from the traditional methods of teaching, as it was all they knew. A study conducted by Yun-Jo An and Li Cao found teachers did not seem to fully understand the educational value of digital learning games. Within the study they worked with 50 teachers to show them the usefulness of digital games, and develop their own digital games. “Teachers were generally skeptical about the pedagogical value of digital games, partially due to their lack of familiarity with games, and they remained skeptical about using games in teaching even after playing various games.”

After introducing several different types of digital games, the teachers in this study began to see their worth and were enjoying the games at the same time. An and Cao conducted several different studies and “examined the changes in teachers’ attitudes and perceptions after being exposed to or playing (digital learning) games.” The educators’ attitudes had gone from skeptical and unsure, to positive and excited about the prospect of digital learning in the classroom.

The Benefits of Digital Learning Games 

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and partners at Legends of Learning conducted their own study on digital learning games, and the effects they had on the students and their classroom environment. This research showed the comparison of students who were exposed to digital learning games and those who were not, and the results were very interesting. They showed students who utilized game-based learning out-performed those who did not, and “special education students involved in the study authored lengthier responses to open-ended questions, displayed greater confidence in the subject matter after playing the games, and achieved more than a whole standard deviation difference.”

According to ESchool News, there were 5 specific outcomes from this study revealed by the teachers:

  1. Deeper content games supported in-depth learning, developing investigative, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
  2. The subset of quiz-style games reinforced lessons and helped review material.
  3. Different types of game play simulated interest and engagement, particularly in students prone to being off-task.
  4. Games prompted student-led discussions, collaboration, and the sharing of knowledge.
  5. Simple and complex games increased confidence and content mastery.

This study also found there was a rapid increase of engagement within the classroom, teachers were a lot more enthusiastic after seeing the positive results of digital games, and there was a clear increase of student attention spans.

“The results highlight the potential of digital games for enhancing instruction, particularly in light of the teachers strongly positive experiences and interest in continuing to use games like these in the future,” said researcher and co-author Douglas Clark, professor, Vanderbilt University.

Bringing Digital Learning Games Home

Digital learning games shouldn’t only be used in classrooms. Teachers should encourage parents to promote these fun educational games at home as well. The benefits of game-based learning are clear from the multiple studies conducted. We recommend sharing the results and the positive outcomes from digital learning games with parents and guardians. This is easy to do in a simple email home, or a digital newsletter from a reliable school notification platform, like SwiftK12.

Alert Solutions has always emphasized the importance of parent engagement and involvement in their child’s education. This is one way to do so! The benefits of parental involvement include increased student success, social skills, graduation rates, and more. 

Want to learn more? Contact us today.

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Topics: school announcement, mobile learning, educational technology, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs

Education's New Partner in Battling Chronic Truancy: Pediatricians

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, Mar 07, 2019 @ 14:03 PM

It’s no secret; chronic truancy is detrimental to student achievement. Students who do not attend school regularly are more likely to not do well academically, or even drop out of school all together. A shocking statistic unveils more than 6.5 million US children, about 13% of all students, miss 15 days or more each year. This doesn’t just apply to middle school and high school. The American Academy of Pediatrics states “at least 10 percent of kindergarten and first-grade students miss a month or more of the school year, while about 19 percent of all high school students are chronically absent.”

Stethoscope

There are many factors that contribute to high chronic absenteeism. Children who are exposed to major trauma such as domestic violence, have recently experienced a natural disaster, or have a history of maltreatment are more likely to experience absenteeism. AAP explains “these children are also more likely to experience other risk factors for chronic absenteeism, including poor mental and behavioral health, poor health outcomes, poverty, homelessness, and frequent school changes.”

Poor health seems to be a large factor in chronic absenteeism. A study in central Texas by the Austin-based E3 Alliance “found that 52 percent of absences were due to chronic or acute illness. By contrast, skipping school accounted for 5 percent.” Luckily, educators has a new partner to help with the growing truancy problem; pediatricians. There is strong evidence showing physical and mental health interventions are helping to improve student attendance.

How Pediatricians Can Help Reduce Truancy

The American Academy of Pediatrics released an extensive report covering proven measures to help reduce truancy, including the following recommendations for pediatricians and their colleagues:

  • Emphasize the value of developing good school attendance habits from an early age.
  • When children and their parents come in, pediatricians are also encouraged ask about the number of school days missed within the month during every visit.
  • Document children's medical needs for an Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan when needed for access to services that optimize learning opportunities.
  • Encourage parents and families to share any and all health concerns with the school nurse on staff.
  • Give guidance on when students should stay home from school and when they should not. For example: Lice is not a reason to stay home from school.
  • When the absence is not appropriate, do not write absence excuses.
  • Always have children return to school when their appointment shows they are well enough.
  • Work with K-12 schools to promote and advocate policies that promote school attendance.

Four Health Strategies from AAP

AAP also put together several strategies that K-12 schools can implement to promote school attendance and tackle chronic absenteeism through healthcare.

  1. Infection Prevention
    Absenteeism isn’t always a malicious way to get out of school work as many students fall sick during the school year forcing them to miss school. Schools are known to be a source of many wide-spread illnesses such as common colds and influenza. Hand hygiene interventions are one way schools are working to battle truancy. Promoting the use of hand sanitizers and hand-washing helped with reducing sicknesses. According to AAP, “in addition to studies of hand hygiene interventions, school-located influenza vaccination programs have been shown to reduce school absenteeism during influenza season.”

  2. School Nurses
    Having a full-time school nurse on staff plays a significant role when it comes to student attendance. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Association of School Nurses recommend a minimum of 1 full-time professional school nurse in every school, recognizing that the ideal nurse-to-student ratio varies depending on the needs of the student population”.

  3. School-Based Health Centers
    According to AAP, a school-based health center provides health services to students who may have been sent home or missed school because of illnesses and injuries or attending medical appointments for management of chronic health problems. These health centers include care for dental services, preventative services, mental services, and behavioral health services.

  4. Mental Health Care
    In a recent blog post we covered the importance of educators looking out for mental health concerns among their students. As K-12 schools are the place young people spend the majority of their days, educators are the first line of defense. Schools play an important role in identifying early warning signs, addressing mental health concerns, and providing help and care.

Not everything is black and white. Chronic truancy and absenteeism have many influencers and healthcare is only one of them. Whether a student is experiencing extreme anxiety about being in school, or has fallen ill and caught a bad stomach bug, missing school has extreme effects on student success and graduation rates.

Alert Solutions works with K-12 schools and districts across the country to help reduce chronic truancy. Schools using SwiftK12, our school notification system, send out automated attendance alerts notifying parents and guardians on whether their child is in school. These alerts not only help increase parent communication, but they also  save hours of time for school staff each day, and most importantly, have been known to help increase student attendance rates.

Download our Reducing Chronic Truancy Guide for helpful tips, tricks, and strategies to battle absenteeism.

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Topics: student health, attendance, school announcement, Medical, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, truancy

Parent Engagement Nights: Ideas to Boost Parental Involvement

Posted by Nina Caliri on Tue, Mar 05, 2019 @ 10:03 AM

Parental involvement in education is a highly discussed topic that’s gaining traction among K-12 educators. Encouraging parents to be engaged with their child’s school work is not only seen as an important rule of thumb, but it has many benefits for students.

Parental Involvement in Classroom

Studies tell us good parental involvement leads students to attend school more regularly, earn better grades, and have higher test scores. Children also have been shown to have lower rates of substance abuse and delinquent acts. The positive results speak for themselves; the tricky part is convincing parents to get involved.

Planning Your Parental Involvement 

It takes more than just parents and teachers to get parent engagement activities in the works. Kelly Bielefeld plans out her parent engagement nights to be informative sessions for parents to learn things that will ultimately help them support their child. This is what she does when planning:

  • Recruit a Team:
    Gathering a group of people to help with putting together a fun and inclusive parent engagement activity is essential. You want to make sure you’re hosting an event that parents want to attend, which is easier to do with a group of helpers on your side.

  • Pick Your Focus:
    There are a lot of fun ideas and informative areas your team can focus a parental involvement activity on, but choosing one can be difficult as there are many places to start. Should the focus be about curriculum, social issues, technology, student work, or the school’s mission? Reach out to parents and see what resonates with them and go from there. Bielefeld suggests rotating the areas of focus so that all parents are engaged.

  • Base Your Focus on Data
    Once you have decided on your broad idea you should try to narrow it down to a specific focus. This should be decided after you’ve looked at the data. Bielefeld explains the following, “The first piece of data to consider would be achievement data. If the plan is to have a “math night,” there should be data to support the need for a focus in this area. The other data that is important is parent feedback, often in the form of a survey.”

  • How to Engage
    Your topic has been chosen. Now you need to decide how exactly you’ll engage parents and get them involved. Consider open discussions, encourage movement and reflection on topics, and have people speak and share ideas on the chosen topic. A lecture simply will not cut it! Make the activity fun and engaging for a successful parental involvement night!

  • Plan, Plan, & Plan Some More!
    Parents are busy, so planning out your parental involvement activity in advance is key. Make sure you share your plans with parents early so they are more likely to attend!

4 Fun Ideas to Boost Parental Involvement

K-12 schools have devised a variety of different parent engagement and family themed nights to get parents through school doors. Below are 4 fun examples from creative schools:

  1. Family Yoga Night
    A school in Virginia has yoga as a part of their curriculum and often encourages students to bring their parents to join them. Attendees bring their own mats or towels to class and enjoy teacher-led stretching and poses. “It’s a great way for kids of all ages and their parents to spend time together in a positive way,” says PTA president Susan Estes.

  2. Wildlife Night
    A Florida elementary school partnered with a nearby local wildlife sanctuary. They brought animals such as snakes, skunks, and even an alligator into school for a live presentation. The students were learning about different habitats, so it fit in well with the curriculum. Plus, is there anything more fun for young kids than seeing animals up close? Parents were invited to join this fun-filled evening.

  3. Rockin’ Through the Decades
    This fun dance party took place at Vine Hill Elementary School in California. Parents and students showed up for an exciting evening and danced away in costumes from their favorite decades to music starting from the 1950s through to the present day. PTO Today suggests asking students and parents to submit song requests in advance to make sure all the favorites are covered!

  4. Annual Cook-Off Event
    A little competition never hurt anybody! A New Hampshire PTA holds an annual Chili Cook-Off competition where students’ parents prepare their favorite chili recipes. The winner takes home a special trophy and keeps it until the following year and then the trophy is passed to the next winner. PTO Today recommends tying this event in with a football game or pep rally theme.

When it comes to planning a fun night and promoting parental involvement, the possibilities are endless! PTO Today has more great ideas if you’re feeling stuck – click here!

At Alert Solutions we understand the importance of parent engagement and keeping parents involved. Communicating with parents throughout the week is a great way to keep them informed of what’s happening at your school. Hosting entertaining parent engagement nights will improve your school’s rapport with parents… and it’s fun!

Check out our Parent Engagement Best Practice Guide for additional tips, tricks, and strategies to kick-start your parental involvement.

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Topics: school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, parent engagement, parent communication, student engagement

5 Ways to Promote Student Motivation During the Dark Days of Winter

Posted by Nina Caliri on Thu, Feb 21, 2019 @ 10:02 AM

Some call these long cold days the ‘February Funk’, others refer to them as the ‘Dark Days’ of winter, but we can all agree that the lack of sunlight and warmth definitely puts a damper on your daily motivation. It may make you feel better to know that this feeling is actually a common phenomenon that affects a large population yearly. Commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (Yes… SAD!), many experience irritability and low energy around this time of the year. 

School Bus

Teachers may begin to notice their students and colleagues are down, and have less of a spring in their steps because of these cold dark days. As an educator, this can make teaching during this lull extremely difficult if your students are lacking any and all motivation. 

Although promoting student motivation is the topic of this blog post, teachers aren’t excluded from these winter blues. As an educator, make sure you’re doing what you can to take care of yourself, and in turn you’ll be taking care of your students.

If you’re not excited to promote student motivation, your students won’t be either. Mother Nature Network shares some ideas to help adults battle seasonal depression, including: taking advantage of daylight, being active, eating healthier foods, and avoiding germs. Teachers are often exposed to a lot of germs in schools, so taking extra precautions during the cold winter months is very important. 

Let’s get back to the excitement of the beginning of the school year with some fun ideas to promote student motivation. We’ve compiled ideas from several K-12 schools that have experienced the dark days themselves, and have made it out happy and ready to seize the day.

5 Ideas to Promote Student Motivation

  1. Switch It Up
    An easy way to engage your students and keep them motivated is to simply switch things up, and allow the unexpected to become the expected! TeachHub tells us that patterns and routines are important and helpful when it comes to student learning. However, “when students begin heavily anticipating what they’ll be doing, part of them goes on “autopilot” and less effort is required from them.” Keep your students on their toes by doing simple changes around the classroom. Reorganize the desks in a new formation and adjust the decorations on the walls to give students the change they need to spark some motivation.

  2. Keep Your Students Moving
    Avoid seeing your students slouching low and being confined at their desks by getting them up and moving throughout the day. Playing games or even group projects that require your students to get up and move around will help motivate the body and mind. Physical movement not only increases student energy, but it also improves performance and mental acuity.

  3. Get Competitive
    There is nothing wrong with a little competition! TeachHub suggests taking ordinary lessons and giving them a gameshow like spin. This will make the lesson both fun and interactive, which will likely engage your students and boost student motivation. “Students love to compete against one another and themselves. If we can harness this motivation to “win” with the objective to “learn,” there are all kinds of possibilities for achievement.”

  4. Let Students Own the Day
    Teachers are the experts on what students should be taught, and what students should know. Try allowing your students to take control of the day, and set the classroom agenda. TeachHub proposes students should be able to “decide on a classroom party or reward day, select the next topic to learn from a provided list, or even bring in their own ideas, possessions, or videos related to the class topic.” This gives the students some control on what they’re learning, which will also promote student motivation and potentially contribute to increased student attendance.

  5. Praise & Positive Reinforcement
    Praising student success is a great way to improve student motivation. Everybody loves being recognized for a job well done, and positive reinforcement is one way to do this. Celebrating even the ‘small’ wins will motivate your students to continue to work toward more classroom successes. You want your students to feel so great in their work that they’ll strive to do better on the next task. Alert Solutions suggests teachers should share praise in messages home to parents. School notification systems like SwiftK12 don’t always need to be used for school safety and emergencies. Simply sending home positive remarks on student work and achievements is a great way to praise your student, but also connect with the parents and keep them engaged as well.

At Alert Solutions, we want all K-12 schools and districts to succeed in motivating today’s students. Share these ideas and remind parents of their child’s hard work with the help of your school notification system.  It’s time to say goodbye to the February Funk with these student motivation tips! Try incorporating these ideas in your classroom to help boost morale and encourage students to enjoy learning during the long, dark winter days.

For more information on SwiftK12, contact us today!

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Topics: school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, parent engagement, student engagement

K-12 School Budgets: 4 Ways to Cut Costs Efficiently

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 @ 09:02 AM

Discussions on school budgets and cutting costs come up in K-12 school districts across the country each year. Every district looks for efficient ways to streamline operations and save money without putting students at a disadvantage and upsetting teachers, administrators and parents.  

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The role and purpose of a K-12 school budget is outlined within the AASA White Paper: School Budgets 101 as “a district’s plan for the upcoming year as related to anticipated revenues and expenditures. School budgets allow districts to translate sometimes intangible missions, operations and objectives into reality by outlining and providing specific programs and funding/financial terms.”

According to the Government Finance Officers Association, “Budgeting principles and policies should be developed collaboratively by the district’s school board and the staff members who develop and recommend the budget. Because both parties have integral roles in developing, adopting, and, ultimately, implementing a budget, both parties must strongly support the principles and policies underlying the budget.”

Everybody should be involved with these important financial decisions, and everybody should seek to balance the school budget equally to benefit the district and in turn the teachers and students. So, how do you make these difficult resolutions?

Making Room in Your K-12 School Budget: 4 Suggestions

Cutting school budget costs is no easy feat. The below suggestions are examples of what some K-12 school districts have done to help with slimming down yearly costs.

  1. Target School Utility Costs
    One thing to consider when discussing your school budget is what your yearly utility costs are. If you’re able to bring down electricity costs from your building equipment and lighting, that may free up some room for your budget. According to School Leaders Now, a district in Grapevine-Colleyville found that the lightbulbs in all of their buildings were not energy efficient. “A company was hired to help encourage more energy-minded behavior, from decreasing water usage to making sure all lights were turned off at night. Together those strategies lowered the district’s utility bills from $4.7 million in 2011–12 to $3.3 million this past year (2017).”

  2. Consider Contracting Services & Sharing Services
    A School Budgeting Report refers to contracting services, or outsourcing, as “a practice of making agreements with outside organizations to provide services in a school district.” These outsourced services are a great way for you to maximize your school budget, and cut costs on services such as food & nutrition, transportation, security, custodial services, maintenance, tutoring, and more. Reduced purchasing costs occur with outsourcing as contractors often have the ability to buy in higher volumes. School districts can also share these services with other districts. In a recent study, “Deloitte found that potential savings across the country from shifting just a quarter of non-instructional services to shared services could potentially yield savings in the range of $9 billion.”

  3. Go Green & Paperless
    Did you know the average school with 100 teachers can use over 250,000 pieces of paper annually? We did the math in a prior blog post and found that these costs add up to about $32,500 in paper and printing costs. A shocking number for handouts! Our Secure Document Delivery Module allows administrators to send report cards, transcripts, school schedules, student evaluations, and more home to parents electronically (with no page limit), saving schools thousands.

  4. Online Schools & eTextbooks
    Most K-12 school districts receive money from the state based on student enrollment. In 2013 the Grapevine-Colleyville district launched a virtual school which boosted their number of students enrolled to almost 14,000. “The virtual campus within the district teaches students from all over the state. The expansion was a way to increase state funding and service a larger number of students with fewer teachers, resulting in cost savings.” Another way school districts can utilize online schooling and e-learning is by conducting Summer School online instead of on campus. Technology also makes it possible for schools to save money by switching from traditional textbooks to eTextbooks. Governing tells us “Traditional textbooks cost California $350 million annually. By transitioning to online textbooks, the state hopes to encourage students' participation in virtual learning while radically reducing textbook costs.”

Alert Solutions works with many school districts across the country. We provide an affordable school notification system, SwiftK12, with features like our Secure Document Delivery Module that allows schools to cut out paper and save money! Get started today.

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Topics: school announcement, mobile learning, report cards, educational technology, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, go green

5 Creative Ways to Improve Student Attendance in K-12 Schools

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, Feb 07, 2019 @ 10:02 AM

An unfortunate but commonly discussed topic in education is the increase of chronic truancy in K-12 school districts across the country. Legally, a chronic truant is defined as “a child of compulsory school age who is absent from public school without legitimate excuse for absence.”

According to the US Department of Education, over six million students missed 15 or more days of school in a recent school year. That’s 14% of the population, or one in seven students not showing up to classes.

Teacher Taking Student Attendance

It is common sense to know when students are not in school, they are not learning. There have been many studies that show us that student attendance directly correlates with student achievement. The more students are in school, the better they perform academically.

Sadly, students skip school for various reasons. Evidence Based Teaching lists a few causes: students are anxious when at school, have social issues, are not performing well academically, lack the drive to do well in school, or parental involvement is low. Other factors could also include socio-economic status, school climate and staff morale. Evidence Based Teaching states “chronically absent students view their relationships with their teachers (or lack thereof) as the most important factor of all.”

As a teacher, there are things you can do to improve attendance and encourage your students to come to school.

5 Tips to Improve Student Attendance in Your Classroom

  1. Show Students They Are Important
    Many teachers are passionate about their roles in teaching, which makes it easy to connect with students on a deeper level. It’s been shown that when students know you care about them, they are more likely to come to school. Be the teacher that stands out, shows an interest in students’ lives and extracurriculars, and engages with students outside of the classroom.

  2. Work to Build a Positive School Culture
    A positive school culture and engaged teachers go hand-in-hand. According to eSchoolNews, “when schools have a positive culture, students become more invested in their learning and excited about attending school. When schools don’t, students disengage and are less likely to have healthy attendance.” Schools are also beginning to take positive approaches to resolving truancy issues, instead of punishments and suspensions.

  3. Encourage Extracurricular Programs & Participation
    Extracurriculars are a great way to get students to enjoy being at school. Joining a sports team or after school club not only helps with social interaction, but it also boosts student attendance rates. Extracurricular activities run by teachers also strengthen bonds between themselves and the students. It’s been proven that schools with higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities have significantly raised student attendance rates.

  4. Student Incentives
    Student incentive programs could be a good way to improve attendance rates. Many assume incentives will be costly for K-12 schools and districts, but that is not the case. For example, “successful incentives can include extra recess time or homework passes. Class-wide incentives that encourage friendly competition between classes also tend to be powerful, as students can encourage their peers to attend school so that the entire group can benefit from the competition.” Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition!

  5. Get Parents Involved
    It’s no question that parental involvement in education is extremely important when it comes to student success. A study by Hanover Research states “improving student attendance may include communicating with families about student attendance, providing families with contact information at school, conducting attendance workshops, and offering after-school programs. Direct methods such as parent phone calls and regular attendance updates have also been associated with improved attendance rates.”

Improving student attendance is always on the mind of educators and teachers. Getting a good education is key to student success, and being in school is one way to do so.

Alert Solutions works closely with K-12 schools and districts to help increase attendance rates with SwiftK12’s Automated Attendance Alerts. Not only do they save hours of time for school staff, but it’s been proven that they’re a more efficient than manually contacting parents when students are absent. SwiftK12 helps monitor attendance and keeps school administrators, teachers, and parents informed of attendance concerns -  ultimately reducing absenteeism.

Reduce chronic truancy today. Check out our helpful strategy guide for tips & tricks!

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Topics: attendance, school announcement, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs, parent engagement, truancy

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