Episcopal High School

Alexandria, VA, United States

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Ashley McDowell
Dean of Students

How did you use to keep track of your students, manage leave requests, check-in’s, attendance and pastoral care?

Before Boardingware, we had paper clipboards, pens, and pencils in the dorms. We had a new sheet of paper every night for the kids to sign-in-and-out with their initials. But that was not a good system for keeping track of kids who were off campus for a special leave or late return, so we also had to manage all those through email.  

We did have an electronic leave system that was set up through our website. Kids could request leave and then we could approve it, but it didn’t have the rich features that Boardingware has to allow our students, parents, hosts, and school to communicate in one place. We also had to transfer the information from our electronic leave system to our clipboards whereas Boardingware auto-populates.

Right, So what was the biggest challenge you faced with your old systems?

I think with the old system, it was just the communication - All the information was in so many different places that when a kid didn’t show up when expected, it was hard to check whether they were on leave or a college leave, or at basketball practice or at the health centre etc.  

So it was super inefficient in terms of keeping track of where our kids were because everything was everywhere. We also had to transfer all of the online leave information to pen and paper for the weekends which was a huge task for the dean’s office.

At what point did you think, there must be a better way? And start looking for a another way to manage your information

Well, I think we all knew that there was probably a better way to do it, but Boardingware just sort of fell into my lap. Paul (co-founder) happened to be travelling around different schools in the area and asked us if he could stop by to give us a demo of the product.

He came by, did a demo and we were blown away and really impressed from the start. So I never actually went looking for anything, rather it just arrived and immediately answered a lot of the questions we had.

When you were first considering Boardingware, did you have any initial fears, hesitations or objections?

Yes. We were concerned about the big change of moving from pen and paper to a very electronic system. I think we were worried about the ways that it could malfunction and how some of our faculty might be intimidated by the technology.

We didn’t really have any real concerns about what the program could do, rather we were more concerned about how much of a cultural shift it would be to the whole community.

That’s a good point, technology in this area of boarding is still relatively new and that shift you mentioned is a concern we often hear from other schools as well. With that in mind, could you tell us your experience to transition from your old system and get started with Boardingware?

It was actually incredibly smooth for us. I spent a bit of time on the front end making sure I knew how to use it and in the first couple weeks of school, I just walked around each dorm every night to check in with the person on duty and ask if they had any questions or concerns.  

The kids didn’t even bat an eye. They love it. They think it’s easier. It’s their world. The faculty were a little intimidated at first but as soon as they got the hang of how to use it, it worked seamlessly with them.

Now that you’ve been using Boardingware on a regular basis, what specific features have been most beneficial for you?

Well there are a couple. I think one of the things that’s been really helpful for us has been the number of different leave types we can create. With Boardingware, our dorms can now use one program to keep track of the kids who are in the health centre...or the kids who have gone to dean’s office...or the kids who are on a college leave etc. So being able to store all of that information into different types and in one place has been huge for us.

Another benefit has been the weekend leave feature because it allows both the parent and the host to approve a request through the same system and it also allows all of us to chat through Boardingware. Being able to take that communication out of our email has been really nice.

And then there’s the accountability side. The kids have really responded well when their name turns bright red to indicate they’re late and it’s helped us to tighten up things on campus.

Fantastic. So culturally, how has it impacted the lives of your boarding faculty and students?

Culturally, we feel like we’re much more efficient and for lack of a better word, accurate. Before Boardingware, when we didn’t have one system to keep track of the kids, it felt like everything was just a bit loose.

Now the faculty feel much more confident about knowing where our students are. If someone hasn’t shown up and signed in, we know that it can no longer be due to miscommunication, so something else must be wrong and we really need to try find that student to make sure they are okay.

Culturally, it’s also helped with our student safety and accountability aspect. Our dorm faculty have actually ended up loving it because the information is so available to them. They don’t spend as much time trying to track down kids who are very clearly on a college leave or at a game or something. They love it.

How would you describe your relationship with Boardingware?

Well, I feel like I’m lucky because we got started in the very early stages. I got to meet Kurt (co-founder) up in Boston which has been really helpful and it’s great that you now have people based up in North America because the time difference was really the only issue. But overall it’s been great and really easy to get questions answered and talk to you guys.

What would you say to other boarding schools who are considering a boarding management system like Boardingware?

I would say that at a boarding school, knowing where our students are is probably the most important thing we do in the dean’s office. And if we don’t know that our students are safe and they are where they’re supposed to be, then we can’t really do anything else.

Boardingware has made that part of our job much more efficient and much more sound. It saves us a ton of time and is far more efficient than how we were doing things in the past. I would 100% recommend Boardingware.

For us, the next step is to use it in lots of different ways. We recently used it for our prom dance. All the kids have to get checked off on the bus so we know exactly who has gotten on and who we’re waiting for. That was a process that used to take 45 minutes to an hour. But with Boardingware, we had them all on the bus in 10 minutes.

We love it.

About Ashley and Episcopal High School:

Ashley is the Dean of students at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, United States. Episcopal High School is a 100% residential community with around 450 students who live in eight different dorms on campus. They cater to both boys and girls through grades 9 - 12.

Both students and faculty live on Episcopal’s 130-acre residential campus, in a unique setting that promotes the camaraderie of common experience and lifelong friendships. Teachers play a vital role in each student’s daily experience and the tradition of their honor code fosters a trust and respect for peers, mentors and adults that endures for a lifetime.

School Website: http://episcopalhighschool.org/

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