Digital technology is used in every part of our lives. Today, students are exposed to using different gadgets, be it for learning or for entertainment. So it only makes sense for schools to be where students are. Also, with the pandemic forcing everyone to adapt to the new normal, many schools are embracing digital technologies to provide a better school experience for their students.
Northwood School adopts Orah
Northwood School is a coeducational, independent boarding school in Lake Placid, New York. Northwood's student body comprises 190 students from around the United States and the world, 85% of whom live on campus. The school aims to foster growth in young people so that they may engage their world and lead lives of consequence.
With that vision in mind, the school is constantly thinking about how to enhance the school experience for its students.
John Spear, the Assistant Head for School Life at Northwood School, spoke to us about how he and his team streamlined a set of processes and scaled their support to meet the needs of their students.
“We have 160 or so boarding students. On any given weekend, we have 100 or so of them away. Some of them are returning. Others are traveling with teams...mostly athletic teams. It's incredibly difficult to keep track of who is where,”
This was the primary problem that they were looking to solve. Initially, the school was unsure if they could make it work because they felt that they were too small and that the price point was out of their reach. However, around the time of the pandemic, they had started to see the value in adopting Orah.
Amidst the pandemic, health and safety became their top priority. The school was looking for a tool that had other add-ons apart from tracking students. Orah provided features that enabled the school to seamlessly conduct daily health checks, helping alleviate uncertainties around student safety.
"We knew that some students were going to be in quarantine. Some students are going to be on campus, and some students are going to be off-campus. We just knew it was going to be a real headache to keep track of all of that. So we circled back to Orah (then called Boardingware), and you had quite an attractive pandemic plan for us. And we took the plunge."
The experience of getting started with Orah
Adapting to using a new tool in your day-to-day processes doesn’t just happen overnight. On the contrary, it takes time and effort to acclimatize. This is where our support team comes in.
“I worked with somebody during the sales process, who was delightful and informative. And after we made the decision to come on board, we were introduced to an implementation manager. She walked us through every step of the process. She asked us questions and nudged us to make decisions about how we were going to use Orah: what kind of passes were we going to use, how were we going to use events for, and all that kind of stuff. She asked us a lot of questions about things I didn't even know were possible. But when she interviewed us and talked us through, it became clear some of the ways that we could use Orah. The onboarding process was really helpful.”
With the help of the support team, Northwood school decided to place the checkpoint tiles at different locations around the school so students can check themselves in and out as they move around the school campus.
Also, part of the onboarding process focused on getting all the school data into Orah.
"We included the data that was in our student information system but also included that was not part of it. That was easy. We exported our data onto a spreadsheet, made sure the spreadsheet was clean, and then imported the spreadsheet into Orah. We did 2 imports: data about students and data about parents.”
Using Orah to resolve challenges
Here is a rundown of how Northwood school uses Orah to overcome some of its top challenges.
1. Keep an eye on student whereabouts using regular check-ins
With so many students moving about the campus for various activities, the school had to ensure that everybody was safe and accounted for at all times. Especially in the pandemic, many different situations crop up. John highlights that some students might be in the country but in quarantine while some students are away to another country for training. All the students are not leaving or arriving at a different time. If one had to track such movements via paper, the information was constantly out-of-date, leading to uncertainties. With Orah, everything is streamlined and visible to the staff on one screen, making it a whole lot simpler.
Roll checks are automated to take place at specific times as set by an admin. The roll uses the data collected from students' check-in and check-out activity (location and time) and checks with the parameters configured in the backend to mark the students as either present, absent or late.
2. Manage leaves with the help of Event Passes
"We have all these boarding students, and they are almost always leaving at different times. It's not like they are all sort of saying goodbye at 2:30 on a Friday. Some are getting in the car, and they are going home. Some are getting into somebody else's car, and they are going home. Some are getting on a bus and then getting on a plane. Some are getting on the hockey team's bus and going to a game and then saying goodbye from there."
Northwood School uses student-informed event passes to coordinate departures and arrivals during a holiday break. Event passes allowed the school to set submission time within which students could send their requests. Reminders can be sent leading up to the submission close time. Students and parents can provide the necessary details (such as departure and return time, transportation types, and destination), making it easy for the staff to track how and when students are leaving the campus.
“If parents looked at how it previously worked, it wouldn’t inspire confidence. Now, I bet it would. If I had parents looking over my shoulder at how we are operating with Orah, I would be perfectly comfortable with them being there.”
3. Track disciplinary infractions using pastoral notes
Dorm violations like playing music too loud after certain hours or students being out after lights out can be written up by staff, triggering a notification to be sent to the student. The severity of the infraction differs based on what kind of violation was committed. To better quantify it, staff can assign a point value to a category. John uses the pastoral points to keep track of the student behavior and check on them when someone exceeds a value set. Here is what John had to say about how Orah compared to the previous system they were using.
“Our previous system was really cumbersome. You had to open up a website, log into it, and have to go through numerous clicks before you could log anything down. And there wasn't a notification that was being sent. What ended up happening was that faculty just didn't log the details, and we were not holding the students accountable to the standards that we said we were holding them accountable to. With Orah, the barrier to getting it done is much lower than our previous system. It's much easier to do."
The impact on students and faculty
John relays that the faculty at Northwood School are generally happy about using Orah. It allows them to use their app right from their phones to account for students’ safety. Be it checking on the students during a study hall or during a fire drill, the process is easy with Orah.
Northwood School is surrounded by a vibrant town that the kids like to visit and explore. The school has made it possible for students to sign themselves in/out by using the checkpoint tiles. The students also find it easier to apply for requests to leave campus to go home over the weekend. They simply have to raise the pass in Orah, and parents are then notified. Once the parents sign off, John approves it from his end. When the staff is conducting their regular check-ins, the students who have left are listed as away. Everybody is in the know, and it helps the school build a better relationship with the students and parents.
“I like it too because I don't have my voicemails and emails clogged up with parent requests. It was such a cumbersome way to do it—you have to make 6 different phone calls back and forth to confirm all that stuff. Now, it's just all done right there with our phone apps.”