This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The School District this week activated a new online parent and family portal that gives guardians and caregivers significant new options for accessing their children’s schoolwork, tracking their attendance and communicating with their teachers.
“Parents now have access to classroom activities at their fingertips,” said Jenna Monley, executive director of the District’s Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE). “The parent can go online without having to depend on the child bringing information home.”
At least, that is the hope of District officials who have spent months refining the system to be as user friendly as possible.
Parents can access the portal, part of the student information system known as Infinite Campus, through any device, including a smartphone — although it seems that the portal hasn’t been optimized for that device (see screenshot below).
Infinite Campus launched in February of 2017 and parents have had access since September through their students’ login. But the parent portal offers more options. Parents can control how they prefer to be contacted by the District, for instance, and track students’ grades throughout the marking period instead of just at the end. There are also full calendars of the student’s daily schedule.
“It is a one-stop shop, what parents need for child’s education,” Monley said. “There is so much research on how when parents and families are engaged in a child’s learning, students do a lot better in school. This opens two-way communication between parent and teacher that they didn’t have before.”
Accessing the information requires online access, and Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the nation with a wide digital divide. But District officials believe that most parents have ways to access the internet.
In a 2015 survey done by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Philadelphia project, 73 percent of residents said they had a computer, tablet or laptop at home, while 27 percent said they did not. A higher percentage, 85 percent, said they had “the kind of cell phone that allows you to connect to the internet.”
One major step forward: the entire portal can be translated from English to Spanish, Mandarin, and simple Chinese. Documentation on how to use it, such as Frequently Asked Questions, are available in eight languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Khmer, Vietnamese, Albanian, Russian and French.
Full access in more languages will be gradually added.
Up until now, many parents did have access to much of this information, but this standardizes it and makes it more comprehensive.
Through the improved portal, parents can see student attendance on a calendar day by day, rather than just a summary. They can keep track of their students’ grades throughout the marking period, instead of just at the end.
They can click on an assignment and see its due date, and how heavily it is weighted in the student’s overall grade. They can also see if an assignment has not been completed, and how late it is.
“Parents can now look at grades a couple weeks into the term, and if a student is not doing well, they can course correct before the report period is over,” said Melanie Harris, the District’s Chief Information Officer, whose office supervised the technical side of the project. “As a parent, I’m excited about this.” Harris has two children at Meredith Elementary School.
Parents also have ready access to interactive curricular materials, all designated by colorful icons on the home screen.
Among the dozen or so parents who commented on the Notebook’s Facebook page, everyone who had gained access praised the new site.
Said one, identifying herself as both a teacher and parent, said ” I love it! I love the amount of details it gives for attendance, grades, and the ability to reach out to the teacher.”
Harris is scheduled to make a presentation on the new portal at the SRC meeting Thursday.