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Rochester Public Schools pilot program to help teachers connect with their students

"In the home of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester Public Schools should be driving innovation nationally," RPS Superintendent Kent Pekel said.

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Rochester Public Schools was one of only two districts in the nation to pilot the program, which is aimed at fostering relationships between students and their teachers.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — In the era of having an app for everything, local teachers have had the chance to connect with their students in a new way.

Rochester Public Schools recently was one of just two school districts nationwide to pilot a program meant to help foster relationships between teachers and students. The program, called "Along," is associated with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, whose namesake is famously known as the wife of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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"The software was built to try to reconnect students to their classroom teachers," Will Ruffin II, RPS director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said. "If teachers choose to use this going forward, they can."

The software is free for the district to use. The pilot program was undertaken in seven of the district's schools, encompassing nearly 800 students.

Essentially, the program allows teachers to send out prompts to their students, and for students to reply to those prompts. They can reply through video, audio or text options.

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The app allows one-to-one communication, but it also allows teachers to coordinate with a group of students for different activities.

Ruffin said even though students were in the classroom this past year, some of them were not as connected as they previously were. The program is meant to help solve that issue.

"We're even looking at ideas of how teachers can get to know their students even before the first day of school," Ruffin said. "So once they get their roster, they can start sending questions out and start building that relationship with students. So on the first day, they already know you as a person ... you already know some things about them."

As part of the pilot program, the district surveyed the students to gauge its effectiveness. When asked to respond to the statement "Along has helped my teacher get to know me," 34.29% of students said they "strongly agree" and 48.57% of students said they "agree."

When asked to respond to the statement "Along has made it easier to build a relationship with my teacher," 35.16% of students said they "strongly agree" and 43.23% said they "agree."

Superintendent Kent Pekel said the program is just one of the ways the school district should be moving forward with cutting-edge solutions.

"In the home of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester Public Schools should be driving innovation nationally," Pekel said. "This was an appropriate example of us doing that. I hope we can do more of it."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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