A2 Virtual pilots on-line parent-teacher conferences

Software allows parents to talk with teachers without leaving home or office

Story, video & photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

For decades, parent-teacher conferences have been an ideal chance to discuss a student’s progress and goals.

But sometimes parents face logistical problems getting to school for these important meetings.

That could be changing in Ann Arbor Public Schools, which is piloting Zoom software to use for online conferencing.

The first online parent-teacher conferences were held Wednesday by the staff of A2Virtual, the district’s online program.

The district was searching for a cost-effective yet robust and secure video communications platform that could be easily utilized by staff and students in our A2 Virtual program, explained Heather Kellstrom, AAPS’ interim director of instructional and information technology.

“What’s key about this tool is that the platform utilizes resources and hardware that most users already own—such as a smartphone, computer or other internet-enabled device,” she said. “We’re excited to see A2 Virtual take the lead by modeling what parent and student engagement looks and feels like in a virtual environment using this new platform. Meeting virtually ensures that everyone can participate equitably.”

A2Virtual teacher Jennifer Durell talks with a parent about her son’s progress. On screen is a chart of his lessons, which the mother can also see.

Kellstrom said the next step is to explore ways to best leverage Zoom tools for staff professional development and other classroom collaborative needs. 

A2 Virtual Coordinator Anthony Lauer says the on-line program has been using Zoom more and more to make access easier for all.

“We’re excited to be able to use Zoom with parent-teacher conferences today here at A2Virtual,” said Lauer. “We’re also exploring other uses for video conferencing, including parent information nights. Were also setting up meetings with teachers and students so that during the day when students are working in their online classes, their instructor can send them a link and have a virtual conference which is going to save on instructor workload traveling between buildings and it’s also going to make it easier for students to interact with teachers.”

A2 Virtual instructor DeMarko Thurman talks with a parent.

He said Zoom offers a virtual whiteboard so teachers can show students how to do activities by writing on their screen and interacting that way. Zoom could also be used for Information Nights.

The goal is for Zoom to be used more broadly across the district, with A2Virtual piloting the software to explore uses for it.

Jeanine Diller, a Skyline parent whose son is taking his first online course, says she appreciates the opportunity to conduct the conference online because it saves time and offers the same benefits of an in-person visit.

A2Virtual Principal Cindy Leaman said that as a busy parent herself, she understands what it would mean to be able to avoid travel time to and from an appointment.

“We’ve put our conferences between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. so that parents can use lunchtime if they’d like to,” she said, “and then they’d pop in for their 10 minutes at a scheduled time without the travel.”

With Zoom, parents and students are sent a link to click to access directly to the virtual meeting room. The goal is for Zoom to be used more broadly across the district, with A2Virtual piloting the software to explore uses for it.

A2 Virtual Principal Cindy Leaman and Coordinator Anthony Lauer watch as Jennifer Durell gets set for her first online parent-teacher conference.

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