Social Impact

App enables school districts to welcome youngsters from military families

WelConnect, which helps educators offer programs for students and parents, could serve as a model to other areas

March 03, 2016 Linda Jackson

Parents in five San Diego-area school districts can now download a mobile app that will help them find the programs and services their children need. Called WelConnect, the app is also designed to link educators and school leaders to community and military organizations offering programs for students and families.

The app is currently only available in the five school districts that are part of the Welcoming Practices consortium, a project in the USC School of Social Work, funded by a grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity. The districts are Chula Vista Elementary, Bonsall Unified, Fallbrook Union High, Oceanside Unified and Temecula Valley Unified. WelConnect, however, can serve as a model to other districts across the country looking to better serve families who are moving into their schools and neighborhoods.

Ron Avi Astor, the principal investigator of Welcoming Practices, said the app will be useful not only to parents, but also to student study teams, special education teachers and community providers who are always in the process of finding supportive and accessible resources for families.

“Up until now, the combination of school, district, county and national resources to meet almost any need required a great deal of searching in multiple areas,” he said. “Now a parent, educator or service provider only needs to select a school and the types of resources wanted, and all of them will appear with links and information about the services. This is a major part of what school social workers, psychologists, counselors and teachers do to help families and students. We think eventually this has implications for every school in the country.”

Laying out the welcome app

WelConnect is part of Welcoming Practices’ larger focus on making the school transition process less stressful for families. Even though the consortium includes districts with high numbers of military families, who might change schools six to nine times during their K-12 years, the app has wide potential to help those who are moving for new jobs, because of financial problems or immigration into the United States.

Welcoming Practices collaborated with faculty and students in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to develop and release the app. Available on both Android and iOS devices, the app allows users to search for the local resources and programs they need near their local school, such as athletic programs, tutoring services, health care or child-care providers and save them as favorites for easy reference. The resources are organized into four categories: district, school, community and military. WelConnect also provides a map function and contact information for each program featured.

The app development team has created a WelConnect website, which describes the features of the app and includes a Help Center where users can send messages that go directly to the app development team. The website also provides tutorial videos on how to log in, search for programs, save them as favorites, find the location of a provider and use the other features of the app.

A parent whose child has fallen behind in math due to changing schools or for any other reason, for example, can search for math tutoring programs offered by the district in which her child will attend or a community provider in their neighborhood.

Social media effort

Teachers, school social workers and other personnel will also be able to use the app to find district or community health and mental health programs to which they can refer parents. They could also search for enrichment programs, in science, technology, engineering or math subjects for example, to help supplement learning in the classroom or during after-school programs. High school students can use the app to find support for college readiness and transition.

The app provides a fast and easy way for parents and school staff, particularly pupil personnel, to get resources at their fingertips.

Diana Pineda

A robust social media effort will encourage principals, teachers, parents, military and community organizations to download and use the app with new families, student study teams and for any resource a family or educator may need to support a child in their school.

“The WelConnect app provides a fast and easy way for parents and school staff, particularly pupil personnel, to get resources at their fingertips,” said Diana Pineda, Welcoming Practices project director. “Those who have tested it say they are impressed with its ability to provide district and school-level resources, as well as a variety of community and military resources to students and families within our consortium schools in San Diego and Riverside counties.”