With the new school year shuffle underway and businesses ramping back up for their next quarter projections, parents are swamped in their home lives and work places. Communication is key to keeping those jam-packed work and school schedules flowing smoothly, and there is no better modern-day way than with ParentSquare, a parent and education-based social network.
It began a few years ago in four test schools here in Santa Barbara and has exploded across the country, continuing to expand. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will soon as it is already being used by many in Santa Barbara, from preschool to high school.
“It grew from 45 schools last year to 180 very rapidly. We were in 1 or 2 states, Illinois and California, and now we are in 22 states. It has just been a great journey this past year,” says ParentSquare CEO and creator, Anupama Vaid. “In the beginning, it was mostly a growing and learning time. We were experimenting, ‘Okay, does this work? Does it not work?’ The education industry was very new to us. About three years ago, we went for a bunch of awards and we thought, ‘Hey if we get awards, we get recognition and people interested’ – and we did get a ton of awards. Whenever we applied we got the award. We got the best Ed-Tech product award as voted by the teachers, and we shared that award with Google Apps for Education, Canvas Instructor, and all these big companies with millions of users, and that was amazing to see!”
ParentSquare was Anupama’s brilliant idea. She is a former working parent and local resident who left her career as a computer engineer to stay at home with her children and become more involved with their schools. It was shortly after spending sometime in their classrooms that she realized how much she had been missing out on during those long days she working in the office. “I used to be a working parent when my daughter was in kindergarten and my son was in preschool, and it was getting so crazy. So when my son was in his last year of preschool, I just decided to quit my job because it was just to much and I decided to stay at home. That was the time when I actually went to the school and worked to be this awesome room mom who got things done and I was like, ‘Wow, I was missing so much being a working mom.’ And that was the realization that, hey, there need to be a better connection between teachers and parents who cannot meet face to face.” The light bulb turned on, and she began developing the education communication tool from home using social network models such as Facebook, focusing on the ease of communication. Anupama thought, “Make it easier, the teachers to send messages home, it doesn’t have to be a meeting... just something easier for every single parent.”
As her children grew and her youngest entered kindergarten, she had a decision to make: either return to work full time or really commit herself to ParentSquare. She passed her concept to the school’s principal. “She said, ‘Yes! Let’s try this.’ So even before I had any product, I had my first customer.” Anupama jumped into action, getting together a team of programmers to build the product as quickly as possible.
This award-winning site is so much more than simple a “Hey, look how cute my kid is” website. It is a secured private forum to improve the dialogue around children’s education. Parents can easily reach out to one another, their children’s teachers and the school administration and in return the administration and teachers can keep parents directly involved in their child’s daily academic activities. Pictures can be posted. Text alerts can be sent. Alumni databases can be created. Teachers’ wish lists and parents’ volunteer lists are accessible by all. There is even an automated-translation option for emails, so there are minimal language barriers between parents and teachers.
The site is a dream for working parents, PTAs, PTOs, teachers, and after-school programs such as the Boys & Girls’ club. Everyone in one place, no matter where he or she is, and everyone up-to-speed with what is going on in their child’s school. “The hope is to enable greater conversation not just (administration) type of messages... learning conversations and especially when your child goes to middle and high school, it can totally drop off ,” says Anupama.
Over the past few years, numerous awards in innovation and education have been bestowed upon the company. Most recently, Anupama herself was honored the 2015 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award in Science and Technology. She proudly accepted the distinction, “It is truly an honor to receive this award and to be recognized among all the inspiring and accomplished women nominated for these awards. Much like ParentSquare, this award was founded with the vision of making a positive diff erence in our community. At ParentSquare, we help schools and families work together to play an active role in children’s success at school.”
Personally, I am delighted to be raising my children in a town with such inventive and accomplished female role models as Anupama Vaid. With my first child starting kindergarten and my second in preschool this year, I couldn’t be more please to have learned of ParentSquare in Santa Barbara schools. I take great comfort knowing that with social tools like this, I will continue to be involved in their learning, as both of my children embark on their education journey.
By Jacquelyn De Longe
Originally published in the Sentinel