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Communicating through the COVID-19 response

Schools and early childhood centres talk about how they utilised School-links Emergency Alerts during the COVID-19 lockdown

We spoke to a number of our schools and early childhood centres to see how they used School-links during the COVID-19 response, both to inform our own ongoing platform development, and to share good practice with other organisations.

The build-up: sharing information to quell the fear

As the pandemic ramped up across the globe, schools began to see the number of queries from parents and caregivers increase. Megan Chisholm, Office Manager at Newlands School in Wellington recalls, “Even a week or so away from lockdown, we could feel that the school community was starting to panic and we were getting a lot more questions. We had already received a couple of Ministry of Education guidelines, so we used the School-links email notification service to forward these onto parents to keep them in the loop.”

Julie Dawick, Deputy Principal at Cambridge Middle School, agrees and explains how they took full advantage of the multi-channel nature of School-links, “We texted parents to say check your emails for further information and this alerted some caregivers that we had the wrong email address which we could then put right before the situation escalated.”

Megan also appreciated School-links Early Notification (EN) system, “The Monday before lockdown many families didn’t send their kids to school. A lot didn’t contact us with everything that was going on, but I was able to use the EN system.” This systems sends texts and emails to the caregivers of students marked absent without explanation, “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to chase up a third of the school without that, especially as we were preparing for the Prime Minister’s announcement.”

Shifting from Level 3 to 4: pre-empting the situation

“That Monday felt almost scary,” reflects Megan, “We knew we were all going to be hearing the news at exactly the same time so we could potentially be inundated with queries. So, we pre-empted the situation and sent out a text to all caregivers to say that we would be in touch shortly.” This gave the management team time to make a plan, “Then we sent out a multi-channel message, on text and email, to announce that the school would be closing except for the children of essential workers. We advised them that we would forward official information via email as soon as it came available.” The parents of essential workers were also able to quickly and easily respond to let us know if their child would be attending.

Rachel from Woolston Pre-School in Christchurch was also able to swiftly contact her families, “Obviously COVID-19 was a situation we hadn’t been in before, and an emergency situation, so it all happened quite quickly.” It soon became apparent after the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Centre needed to send out a communication to families alerting them that they would be closed the following day, “I was a wee bit panicked about how I was going to keep them updated but we just used the text messaging in School-links. It was really good. I could keep everybody informed and I could send links through it to further information.”

Level 4 – lockdown: communicating for well-being

Newlands Primary School used the School-links email platform to stay in touch with their community, reassuring them that the students’ wellbeing and mental health was a priority. As soon as they had  a plan in place for online learning, they shared the information with caregivers and gave specific times to the families for when the teachers would be in contact. Megan stresses, “Having a reliable communication system that syncs with our management system edge was invaluable. It meant that all the new students who were starting our school in term two were seamlessly receiving all the communications too. It just made my life so much easier.”

For Cambridge Middle School too, School-links meant that everyone was connected. Julie explains, “We used School-links to share all communications that were relevant to parents, and always texted to alert them to check their emails. School-links meant that our comms were relevant, on time and to the point. It provided such reassurance for the community at what was a very difficult time.”

Moving out of lockdown: administration made simple

The main issue for schools as the country moved back into level three was finding out the numbers of students who would be attending. Megan again found the text alert system critical, “We used the text option again at this point, with a link to an online form that made it easy for parents. We had so many positive comments about our communication.”

Rachel had the same response from her early childhood parents, “I have had a lot of feedback from the families saying that it was great, that we kept them up to date and they knew what was happening.”

Reflection: it was all about reassurance – and time

For Megan there were two clear benefits of School-links Emergency Alerts. Firstly, the school had time to craft the content, rather than worry about how they were going to get communications out, and secondly it gave the community peace of mind, “They knew that they didn’t have to chase us. We hardly had any queries because we were able to keep right on top of it.”

Julie describes School-links as pivotal for the communication strategy at Cambridge Middle School, “It would have been absolutely onerous without it.  When we moved into level four, we knew we had everything in place and were just waiting to press go. And that feeling of reassurance spread to our community too.”

With thanks to Cambridge Middle School, Newlands Primary School and Woolston Pre-School.

Learn more about Emergency Alerts