Widefield School District 3 (WSD3) relied on a team of school counselors spread across 16 different campuses to oversee the social and emotional health of its students. Because these counselors wore many different hats, finding the time for one-on-one interactions with students was difficult at best. A student feeling emotionally unwell on a specific day, for instance, couldn’t always get the needed face time with a counselor.
“We may have had a student in crisis, but we really wouldn’t have known about it,” said Carlos Lopez, director of technology for the district, which is situated about 10 miles south of Colorado Springs. A school principal when the district adopted the Gaggle student safety platform nine years ago, Lopez said the platform paid for itself within just a few days of implementation.
A high school student was sending potentially suicidal emails from a school restroom. Gaggle flagged the problem and alerted administrators. “We had an administrator in the restroom within minutes,” recalled Lopez, “checking on the student to make sure everything was okay.”
The fact that one student’s life was saved within days of implementing the new student safety platform sold the entire district on Gaggle’s use. “That alone was lifesaving, and over the years we’ve had a handful of these situations,” said Lopez. “You can’t put a price on a student’s life in any way, shape, or form.”
Keeping Up in a Dynamic Environment
With 10,000 students and just over 1,000 staff members, WSD3 encompasses eight elementary schools, one K-8 school, three junior high schools, two high schools, an alternative high school, an online learning program (D3 My Way), and one preschool. Helping to support students’ social and emotional well-being across these diverse educational settings isn’t easy, which is why WSD3 decided to add Gaggle to its technology lineup.
“Historically, students had personal contact with counselors and individuals who were in a position of trust,” Lopez said. Thanks to larger classroom sizes, the adoption of educational technology, and the fast-paced society that we live in, that dynamic has changed considerably over the last few years.
Add remote learning, social distancing rules, and school closures to the equation, and the need for a friendly watchdog that can help districts monitor their students’ mental health becomes even greater. Today, a student at WSD3 who shares a personal narrative about self-harm with a friend via Google Drive, for instance, can receive the right level of intervention quickly.
“It’s one thing for students to be in crisis and to have someone in a position of trust who they can reach out to, but it’s another thing for someone to be in crisis and feel like they have no one to reach out to,” Lopez explains. “They can, however, drop their feelings into Google Drive. That’s been pretty eye-opening for us.”
Proving Its Worth
At WSD3, much of the content that’s flagged includes inappropriate language. “We screen each one of those instances and take appropriate actions,” said Lopez. “We also have school administrators at every site who see the content.” In some cases, for instance, the inappropriate language may signal a bigger problem at home (e.g., a domestic abuse situation).
Gaggle has also proven its worth during the COVID-19 crisis, during which time all teachers and students have been teaching, learning, and collaborating online versus in person. “Our protocol in receiving Gaggle alerts has worked extremely well; it’s the only way we conduct business,” said Lopez. “I’ve even noticed that our administrators are timelier than ever with their responses.”
Initially during this period of uncertainty, Lopez had seen an uptick in Gaggle alerts, with most of them emanating from the fact that students were sharing more online than they did in the pre-pandemic environment. “Because kids are trying to be more social online,” he said, “we’re hearing the narrative around what’s going on in their lives.”
Recently, one high school student registered for several pornographic websites using a district email address. Gaggle picked up on it and notified the school administrator, who immediately spoke to the student’s parents. In this case, the parents asked for the student’s Gmail account to be suspended.
Lopez said he’s consistently amazed by Gaggle’s responsiveness in these situations. “The reports we get aren’t two or three days old; they literally just happened minutes ago,” he explained. He also likes how the platform is run and monitored by humans and not just technology.
“With Gaggle, it’s not just about an algorithm,” said Lopez. “I have peace of mind knowing that Gaggle is a part of my workflow and I’m the system administrator on it, but that I’m also not spending my time on it 24/7.”