Long at the forefront of the use of technology to advance teaching and learning, Greater Latrobe School District, Pa., became one of the first school districts in the nation to roll out the eSchoolPLUS Family App.
In early December, the district invited all of its middle and high school students to spend a few minutes to download the app during lunchtime or a study hall. Although some SunGard K-12 Education representatives were on hand to answer questions, many students quickly found their way around the app to their grades, assignments, schedules, and more. The SunGard K-12 team provided students with a one-page guide about the app for their parents and guardians.
Later that evening, the district highlighted the Family App in a discussion of its technology initiatives at the monthly meeting of the Greater Latrobe School District Board of School Directors. As a preamble to a series of presentations by elementary, junior high, and high school students and educators about the impact of these technology initiatives, Robin Pynos, Greater Latrobe’s director of technology, expressed appreciation for the funding the district received from Greater Latrobe Partners in Education Foundation and noted that the advances have put the district in a leadership role among Pennsylvania districts. “Other school districts look to Greater Latrobe,” she said.
Over the past 20 years, the school district has launched a series of initiatives to minimize the growing achievement gap between students with access to technology and those whose families who, for whatever reason, cannot provide such access. In 1997, for example, Greater Latrobe became one of the first U.S. school districts to launch a one-to-one computing initiative, providing a laptop computer for every junior high school student. The program was later expanded to include the senior high school, which greatly increased the use of technology in authentic, integrated ways to solve problems, complete projects, and creatively extend student achievement.
Today, technology has become integral part of the Greater Latrobe classroom. For example, the school district recently launched a Chromebook pilot program for language arts classes in the three elementary buildings. Two 3-D printers are now available at the junior and senior high school. The school district has also purchased interactive whiteboards and student response software for every classroom in the senior high school. In addition, the district launched a Bring Your Own Device program that allows students in grades 9 to 12 to use their personal mobile devices to access the school network.
To handle its administrative software needs, Greater Latrobe selected SunGard K-12 Education’s PLUS 360 solutions. It relies on eSchoolPLUS for managing student information. To provide parents/guardians and students with access to test scores, attendance, assignments, discipline records, and more, the district uses the eSchoolPLUS Home Access Center. For managing its assessment data and sharing a comprehensive, standards-based curriculum the district relies on SunGard K-12’s PerformancePLUS. And for managing critical financial, procurement, payroll, and personnel functions, the district uses eFinancePLUS.
During the Board meeting, one of the district’s elementary teachers described how essential eSchoolPLUS has become to her and her colleagues. “[We use eSchoolPLUS] to input our data into a centralized location. It makes it very, very accessible for us all the time,” she said. “It’s a valuable tool for teachers. It allows us to use data to further instruction.”
One parent, who has four children in the district, discussed how she uses Home Access Center (HAC) to support her children’s achievement.
“My kids are pretty good at understanding that doing your homework on time is not an option. But even still, HAC has been a great tool for monitoring assignments,” she explained. “Last month, we extended the Veteran’s Day holiday and my kids were off school. When we came back it was very easy to pull up HAC and look and see what assignments they had missed, make sure that they eventually had a grade there, that everything had been turned in, and that nothing fell through the cracks. It’s also good for monitoring assignments to check their progress.”
Pynos said the Family App is a logical step for the district, given how people are now accessing information. “Apps are growing at an unbelievable rate. And the rate of people accessing their information through apps is also growing,” she said. “In fact, at the beginning of this year, for the first time ever, the use of apps to access information on the Internet has surpassed people who sit at a desktop and get their information via a browser.”
With the Family App, the district hopes to make essential information even more accessible to students and their family. “The Family App is designed to put just-in-time information at the fingertips our families so that it can be tightly coupled with their knowledge of what’s going on in their student’s life,” she said. “With those insights, parents and guardians can structure what happens at home to support their student’s success. And, for students, the Family App helps connect them with their education in a way that’s both meaningful and familiar—helping make it easier to manage their assignments and prepare for their assessments.”