Media News Group, Berksmont News
Kutztown Area Middle School launched its pilot project Info Bus, a mobile meeting vehicle that travels out into the community.
“Any opportunity we get as a school district to go out into the community is a good opportunity for us,” said Kutztown Superintendent Christian Temchatin. “We get a chance to see students, parents, grandparents and answer any questions that they may have without them having to come to us… It builds bridges in terms of communication. We want to make sure that all parents in our community know we are true partners in everything we do and provide for our community. Being out here gives us the opportunity to show that.”
The Info Bus made it first visits out into the community on Feb. 1, stopping at Luella Drive and North Laurel Street in Kutztown and then at Highland Estates.
The Info Bus is a product of Kutztown Area School District’s partnership last year with global design company, IDEO, and a $2,000 grant. Students, parents, teachers and administrators participated in interactive workshops focused on improving communication between parents and teachers, answering the question, "How might we strengthen communication and trust between parents and teachers to support student success?” The design idea that gained traction was initially named Kutztown Concierge, which developed into the Info Bus.
“This is our prototype coming out of our design thinking work with IDEO, so the grant funded this project and enabled us to do this,” said Hand. “We’ve already seen a very positive response.”
The team on the Info Bus included Kutztown Middle School Principal Jim Brown, teacher Beth Patten and guidance counselor Hallie Schumacher.
“We actually come out to people that don’t get a chance to see us so we’re reaching out to them,” said Brown. “It shows that we care about them. That’s important because we’re all part of the community.”
As a teacher and a parent, Patten loves that the Info Bus is going out into local neighborhoods.
“It’s overwhelmingly positive,” said Patten. “We have a pretty supportive community. I feel like we could be doing a little bit more outreach and this is just the launching point for that.”
While students enjoyed hot chocolate and activities like coloring and games, the Info Bus team helped parents connect to the online parent portal, new digital report cards and the district’s ConnectEd mass notification system.
“Most of them just have some general questions that they want to go through,” said Hand. “We’re making sure they can sign up for our online portal, access digital report cards or just learn more through their eyes. That’s what our design thinking work is about, really learning through empathy... Getting to see and understand their frustrations and help them overcome those gaps whether it’s something we can explain to them or a new opportunity we can open to them to make sure that they have that access. We’re in a partnership with them; it’s for their child’s success.”
Kutztown 6th grader Madelin Maley said her mom got a text from her principal. She liked the hot chocolate.
“The experience was good because I had a confusing issue about a program that they’re using called Canvas and I got my question answered,” said her mother Tracy Maley. “I think what I like most is that it’s fun... to have this magical bus coming into your neighborhood.”
“I think it’s great to keep everybody connected and know what’s going on,” said Madelin’s grandmother Wendy Fritz.
Kutztown 6th grader Saige Brown also liked the hot chocolate. Her mom, Danielle Tackash and stepdad, Jason Miller, liked that the Info Bus visited their neighborhood.
“I love it. I just got home from work and we live up the street so we saw it and we walked down,” said Danielle. “It’s really awesome what Kutztown Area School District is doing and we love it here.”
“I think it was just good information in general to keep us informed of what’s going on,” said Jason. “I think it’s cool.”
“Everybody’s really friendly and super helpful and they answered all of our questions we had and gave us more insight,” said Danielle.
Parent Allison Fuller spoke to Superintendent Temchatin, “I’m hoping you can do it again, because now people are going to be talking about it… Maybe you can come out to some of our community events.”
Also a board member of the Kutztown Community Partnership and chair of the Community Block Party, Fuller suggested the Info Bus come out for the Block Party.
“I like that it’s one-on-one, person-to-person, and it’s coming to the parents; It’s not parents having to go to the school,” said Fuller. “It helped me know that I had all of the tools that I needed and it gave them some feedback… It’s opening a more positive communication. It shows that the school district is reaching out.”
“This is the first time that we’re doing this,” said Hand. “We are doing this on a very small scale because we didn’t know how it was going to turn out and that’s really what a pilot or prototype is; it’s something that’s done very quickly just to learn so when we do go out and do this again, we’ll make it even better next time. We’re learning that this is something that families will come to. Even in the first 45 minutes we already learned that families will come out to us.”