Throughout her senior year, Kenna Chase enjoyed having the opportunity to express her thoughts and share her feelings with a trusted adult at her school.
“It was great to connect on that authentic level, where we were two people,” Chase said. “She wasn’t just my teacher or principal. She was my friend, as well.”
Dr. Stacey Perez, principal of Classical Academy High School in Escondido, California, had a fun and easy way to regularly interact with Chase amid her busy schedule in the 2020-21 school year.
Perez and Chase connected through Along, a new digital reflection tool that is free to use. Gradient Learning, with the support of Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, developed Along to help educators make each student feel seen and understood.
“Opening those lines of communication and making those connections are one of the most valuable tools that we have to ensure student success, and Kenna’s a perfect example of that,” Perez said. “We open those lines of communication and we’re able to connect and continue those conversations, whether in-person or virtual.”
Along, which officially launched in June, provides an easier and more meaningful way for teachers to check in with their students. Research shows that strong relationships between students and teachers lead to stronger academic engagement and achievement, higher attendance, fewer disruptive behaviors, and lower school dropout rates.
Obviously, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic played a major role in Along’s development as educators searched for more effective ways to gauge how students were truly handling the stresses in their life inside and outside of the classroom.
But Along was also created to address the long-term need for teachers and students to establish impactful relationships with each other — during and after the pandemic.
“What I know from my personal experience and what we heard from teachers is that they want to get to know each student and support them individually, but a lot can get in the way of having regular, one-on-one check-ins,” said Andrew Goldin, Executive Director of Gradient Learning. “We built Along to provide educators with an easier, flexible, and more meaningful way to connect with students, so teachers can spend less time scheduling meetings and more time supporting each student.”
Daniel Motta, who teaches at LEAD Innovation Studio in Kansas City, Missouri, was among the pilot users of Along who enjoyed the simplicity of the tool. Motta would record a short video message that featured a reflection question from Along’s library — such as “What is something that you value, and why?” — and send it to his students. Each student would receive an individual message and respond to Motta with either a video of their own or a text message.
Oftentimes, Motta found that one simple question would lead to an engaging back-and-forth dialogue that provided him with a more realistic look at how his student was doing.
“We can experience those very human moments of laughter, smiles, and jokes that happen in school and that are so important to building strong bonds,” Motta said.
As Motta watched his students profoundly open up about what’s really on their minds, he couldn’t help but reflect on his own high school experience and how he wished he had a similar tool as Along back then. Motta said Along empowers each individual student to truly feel like the main character in their life story, which he said wasn’t the case for him.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t really feel like I was the main character,” Motta said. “I felt like I was the support character in a whole bunch of stories, but I didn’t really have my own story. I was a good student and I did a lot of things, but I feel like I did a lot of those things for other people and not for myself.”
Gradient Learning is excited to offer Along as a way for all students to escape peer pressure, express their true feelings with a mentor in a safe space, and gain the confidence to find success in all areas of their lives.