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App helps parents stay on top of school news Add to ...

For 14-year-old Derek Wong, keeping his mother up-to-date on school activities isn’t a big priority.

“He’s forgetful, he’s a teenager and [it’s]more important [for]him going out with his friends than it is telling me that he has a parent-teacher night coming up,” Donna Wong, Derek’s mother, says with a laugh.

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Right now, Ms. Wong visits the websites of the British Columbia government and Vancouver School Board for the latest information on Magee Secondary School, where her son is entering Grade 10 this month.

That may change, however, with the debut of VSB’s new smart-phone application. Launching this week, the app is designed to alert parents, students and community members about school holidays, scheduling disruptions and parent-teacher interviews through push notifications. They can also access contact information for their child’s schools, including the principal’s e-mail address.

“Being a school district, we want to find as many ways as possible to communicate with parents and the community,” says VSB superintendent Steve Cardwell. “Knowing how busy parents are these days, we think using an app is a great way to provide information on-the-fly.”

To download the app, parents can search for “VSB” in Apple’s iTunes store, and install it onto their iPad or iPhone for free. The school board says this is the first app of its kind in any Canadian school district.

While the Toronto District School Board also has an app available on iTunes, it does not provide information about events or activities. As a “school finder,” the app helps users locate district schools by generating walking directions to nearby institutions.

But the TDSB has plans to integrate social media apps into its schools as a way to connect staff with parents and the community, says spokesperson T.J. Goertz.

“Smart-phone and tablet technology are definitely going to help parents keep track of what’s going on in the school and the classroom,” he says. “Our schools are committed to providing parents with the information they need in the manner they want to receive it. So if that’s e-mail, social media, print – they’re going to adapt to meet the needs of their community.”

Since introducing the beta version of their app on Aug. 20 (the new app is called “version 1.1”), the VSB says it has received positive feedback from local parents. With more and more parents owning smart phones, Mr. Cardwell says developing an app was one more way – in addition to newsletters, voice mail and e-mails – of keeping moms and dads informed.

The next step is to use the app as an educational tool, he says, but adds that for now, it’s primarily a “communication portal to parents,” and that discussion of classroom usage is preliminary. In Toronto, the TDSB formed a committee late last school year that will discuss the use of smart phones and other personal electronic devices in the classroom this month.

Ms. Wong, who works as an administrative assistant at the VSB, says she will “most likely” download the app once the new version comes out. It’s a way, she adds, for her to be in-the-know about her son’s important school activities “without having to ‘harass’ him, is what he’d probably call it.”

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