About Saint John's Prep
Saint John's Prep located in Collegeville, Minnesota, encompasses grades six through twelve. The school encourages its students to engage deeply in learning, foster and participate in an inclusive community, and grow into adults who are intellectually adventurous, ethically sure-footed, and generous of heart and spirit.
Orah met with Ryan Brandon, Director of Resident Life, and had a delightful conversation about moving into the future of managing a student body.
Getting started with Orah
Ryan joined Saint John's Prep in July 2019 and came to know the school was using pen and paper to collaborate and coordinate various processes.
"When I got here, I found out we used paper and pencil, and that didn't work for me. It was 2019, and it was not how we needed to be communicating with international families," said Ryan.
It was also around the time the team at Orah had reached out to the school, hoping to get them on a call and listen to us about how we could help the school.
"Within a month of me starting the role, I had your email sitting in my inbox as I was learning we used pen and paper. And I went, 'Oh, so there are solutions out there! Why haven’t we utilized them?' It just seemed to work out nicely that you guys had reached out just as I was considering adopting something new to replace pen and paper."
When prompted to highlight what he liked about the idea of adopting a tool like Orah, Ryan mentioned how he liked that students were also involved in the process. Features like checkpoint tiles, leaves, and passes enabled the students to make the most of a self-service model. Students could report their location, raise a request to leave the campus on the weekend, and more.
Ryan recollected how overwhelming the onboarding was at that time. He had moved from higher ed where students were granted more freedom to move about and make their own decisions. But in a boarding program such as theirs, staff had to be on top of where students were present at all times. Onboarding with Orah was not just about learning a new system, but it also meant revisiting the school philosophy and answering questions like what does it mean to be a teenager here, what level of freedom are we going to give to our students, and such.
“I would highly recommend having some of those pieces in place before trying to onboard with Orah. You really need to know your program. Being new did not allow me to do that, and I had to make tweaks along the way. The COVID pandemic period kind of allowed me to do that because we only had 13 in our building last year. We made little tweaks to our program and processes. This year, we are back to 56. We can now see that there is not enough staff for us to make do with just a pen and paper, and we made the right decision to adopt Orah.”
Resolving pain points with Orah
Here’s a rundown of the top features helping Saint John’s Prep scale and be more efficient:
One of the staff's favorites is the events feature, as it enables them to standardize the sign-up process for events. It also enables them to send out reminders and improve participation.
"We have 10 spots to fill. And people who respond to the event get it. It's no longer about who messages me faster or who emailed me faster, or who stopped by my office earlier. Everything is the same way for everybody because everybody has got equal access."
- Checkpoint tiles
The other feature that has helped make staff lives easier is the checkpoint tiles. Staff can easily verify if the data captured and what the students say about their location match. For example, a student claims to have gone to the library that is located 4 mins away. But he/she checks in at the library only after 30 mins. The staff can follow up and find out what had happened during that period.
"Orah propelled us into the future and helped us increase communication with our parents. Most importantly, it enabled us to put some responsibility on our students' shoulders," commented Ryan.
- Pastoral Notes
Other than tracking behavioral information via pastoral notes, the school also uses pastoral notes to track medical information—what time medicine was given to who, and by whom. It is used to capture the sequence of events when a kid falls sick. This proves especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When a kid is sick and comes by to the nurse's office, the nurse logs in that a student had come by with a sore throat, they rested with me for 20 minutes, and then I brought them back to rest in the residence hall. Now I know the sequence of events that led to being back in the building without needing to be involved in the decision-making process. When it's documented, I can, for example, see that it is the seventh time a student has gone back to the residence hall. Perhaps, I can deduce that there's something they don't like about the third period. It enables me to make data-driven decisions about student wellbeing and safety.”
The impact on students and staff
Students find it very simple to use Orah as it takes only a few seconds to check in and check out of a place. The difficulty probably lies in making it a habit of using it. Students have to remember that if they walk in through a door, they should update their location. Or when they go to school, they should hit the NFC chip. Or, if they are going to an athletic event, they should remember to input that pass. Ryan believes that the entire school needs to set expectations about what students need to follow from day 1 and keep it.
Staff love using Orah as well. It is easier for them to get their job done using the many features that Orah offers. However, Ryan also felt that because there were many options, it could be overwhelming for the staff to understand what features to use to resolve what kind of problems. But having a support team on standby helps ease some of the worries. When there is a question, Orah’s support team responds within 24 hours.
“Right now, our academics use two different systems. Then, we use Orah. But we have started to bring awareness to the platform with the people in the academic world. I would like to get to a point where that is the system we use for everything. Hopefully, we will get there sometime in the future.”