Tech Savvy: Skyward Family Access is helpful, when you look at it
It's hard enough for me to keep track of my two middle-school children so I cannot even fathom how Brainerd School District teachers and administrators keep track of the estimated 2,000 students who attend Forestview Middle School in Baxter; or, ...
It's hard enough for me to keep track of my two middle-school children so I cannot even fathom how Brainerd School District teachers and administrators keep track of the estimated 2,000 students who attend Forestview Middle School in Baxter; or, for that matter, the thousands of students at the Brainerd High School north and south campuses and elementary schools.
Trying to keep track of everything from my children's homework assignments; to when they have a test; to hearing about changes in their activity schedule, such as practice being canceled; to knowing if school is going to be late or canceled because a blizzard is coming to town.
Parents are busy and it can be tough to keep up. At least there is Skyward, a computer software that specializes in K-12 education to help us parents out.
How it works
Families go to the district's website at www.isd181.org , click on "Family Access" which is at the right hand corner of the page and sign in. Families have to register their information when they enter the website for the first time. Families register at https://docs.google.com/a/isd181.org/forms/d/1WmzBEH1qBQ6QbUrhX3wwLldy0-... to fill out the form. Once registered, all a parent has to do is login to their account and they'll see a wealth of information about their child.
In Brainerd, the elementary schools use Family Access primarily for food service payments. In grades five through 12, the information is much more extensive. The software allows easy, open lines of communication between the school and home. Parents can view their child's attendance, grades and homework to seeing when events are to whether their lunch accounts are running low. It will even show you if your child has been disciplined ... Oh my.
Michelle Pejka, student information systems specialist for the district, maintains all Skyward user accounts, supports the implementation of it and provides training in the proper use of Skyward for all staff in the school district.
"Family Access is a great way to stay connected with your students' academics and also stay connected with your students' teachers," Pejka said. "Family access offers information from secondary assignment grades, to daily attendance. You as a parent are able to pay for your student lunch account as well using RevTrack. Parents can stay up to date with the classroom by viewing reminders on our message center from teachers and administration all located on Family Access."
Sarah Porisch, Brainerd's director of technology, said it is really important for families to have an account in Skyward to make sure they continuously are updated.
"This is our main way to communicate with families," Porisch said. "Teachers like it and overall it's awesome because it isn't anything extra for everyone to do. Everything is more streamlined."
So as a parent, I can log into my family's account and see if my children have handed in their homework on time or check to see when their next test is. It's not like I don't believe my children when I ask them every night if they have any homework to get done-but it's nice to have the option to double check it in our account."
Parents also can check on their child's grades on this account. A parent told me she finds Skyward not only helpful to check her children's grades and homework, but said having the teachers' names hyperlinked to their email, makes it "quick and easy to send direct communication" to them. She also likes that her "kids have access to check their grades and test results."
Another helpful benefit on the account is families can keep track of their child's lunch account. If it is low a parent can add a payment in their Skyward account. It is pretty slick.
There also is a messaging system in Skyward called "Skylert." The messages are sent to families through an email address or a phone number.
Just this week I received a reminder email that there was an "Early Out Day" Wednesday; information about the "Driven to Give" event scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 30 at Mills Ford Lincoln-Brainerd/Baxter, which is a fundraiser for Forestview students; an email reminder to prepare the kids for the MCA tests; and two progress updates on grades for my eighth-grade daughter.
Parents I talk to have been across the board-from looking at their account every day to just receiving the messages through Skylert to not even setting up an account. I will make a little confession on our family account: I have not been very good at checking it as often as I should, but I plan to be better.
Porisch and Pejka both said the school district's goal is to have all families signed up. They said the district takes the security of the student data seriously and once a family registers for Family Access, it will be granted within one to two business days to confirm the parent information for the students.
Some teachers in the district use another communication with their students and parents by using an application called "Remind.com." I am on the list for one of these.
As I was writing this column Wednesday afternoon, I received a "Remind.com" from my daughter's geography teacher reminding her about the Central America and Caribbean test scheduled Thursday. During the open house this past fall, both my daughter and I signed up to receive these automated texts from the teacher to remind her of assignments and tests. In the beginning of the year, I drove my daughter crazy as every time I received the message I would ask her if she was done with her assignment or if she was ready for the test. Her response was always, "Yes, Mom," and the more messages I got the more I asked and of course, the more annoyed she got. So eventually I stopped asking my teenager this question.
Some may think the text messages may be too much information, but regardless of opinion, if a parent or student wants to have reminders, they have the option with the teachers who use the application. I could probably get off the Remind.com notification, but school is almost done ... And I may want to playfully annoy my daughter again.
So if you are new to the school district or you just haven't registered in Skyward, I encourage you to sign up. It's an easy way to stay in touch with what your kids are doing in school and to communicate with teachers.
If you are struggling with signing up for an account or have questions, the district has a helpline at 218-454-6940 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.