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SchoolBzz Improves Critical School-to-Parent Communication with AWS EdStart

2020

SchoolBzz is dedicated to making it easier for parents to receive relevant school information and become an active participant in their child’s education. The company developed a cloud-based platform to consolidate common tools like teacher websites, email, and messaging apps to simplify how schools share information with families. “A growing body of research underscores the connection between parent engagement and student outcomes. Parents who are not adequately informed about what’s happening in their child’s classroom or within the school community at large may lack opportunities to participate fully in their child’s education,” says Jennifer Larson, SchoolBzz founder. “SchoolBzz is committed to ensuring schools have the support and resources they need to build a thriving school community.”

While attending graduate school, Larson conducted a study to better understand a problem she and her husband faced with their four children: trying to keep up with all the information sent home from school. “It was evident that most schools had a ‘one size fits all’ approach to communication. Parents were overwhelmed. We needed to find a way to simplify the process so all families had access to information relevant to their child,” says Larson.

Larson’s goal was to flip the traditional school communications model and give parents control over what, when, and how they receive daily updates from school. Larson worked with software engineer contractors to develop the SchoolBzz architecture. The platform was initially set up on Heroku, a container-based cloud platform-as-a-service, with a long-term goal to move to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

When schools shut down in March 2020, Larson saw a huge spike in traffic to the SchoolBzz service. Many users experienced slow speeds and reported content not loading. That accelerated the company’s plans to migrate to AWS.

Shot of two young women using a laptop together in a college library
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The AWS EdStart team is always available to weigh in with their thoughts and best practices.”

Jennifer Larson
Founder, SchoolBzz

Building a Strong Support System with AWS EdStart

Among other services, SchoolBzz is now using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to improve scalability, AWS Lambda for asynchronous reporting and analytics, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store and protect data, and Amazon DocumentDB to support MongoDB workloads. “AWS has a strong technical team and we’ve been heavily dependent on their feedback as we build our product strategy—from high-level insights regarding our strategic direction to specific details regarding our Heroku-to-AWS migration plan. Running on AWS also provides brand recognition and credibility for SchoolBzz because AWS has a positive reputation in the educational technology (EdTech) industry for providing secure and reliable service,” says Larson.

SchoolBzz was founded in 2016, and in 2018, the company joined AWS EdStart, a startup accelerator designed to help entrepreneurs build the next generation of online learning, analytics, and campus management solutions on the AWS Cloud. Larson says support from the AWS EdStart team has been instrumental in SchoolBzz’s development. The company regularly shares blogs and attends founders’ events and competitions. AWS EdStart also enabled SchoolBzz to develop relationships with other entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, and partners in the EdTech space. “We love connecting with other entrepreneurs to share startup stories, challenges, and opportunities. We’ve promoted each other’s products, shared referrals, and provided a sounding board during tough times,” says Larson. “In addition, the AWS EdStart team is always available to weigh in with their thoughts and best practices.”

Reengineering School-to-Parent Communications

Working with AWS and using AWS EdStart enabled SchoolBzz to scale more effectively. Before migrating to AWS, SchoolBzz was working with two pilot schools in Colorado and had 600 users. The platform was available to users via the web only, and it didn’t integrate with any of the learning management systems. Today, the SchoolBzz platform is used in 10 pilot schools in four states. There are more than 6,400 SchoolBzz users with a 76 percent average user adoption rate per school.

Perhaps most notable, use of SchoolBzz is helping schools simplify their processes, eliminating redundant communication tools, and saving teachers the headache of posting the same information in multiple places. SchoolBzz integrates with major learning management systems such as Schoology, owned by PowerSchool, and Google Classroom, while expanding parent access to support iOS and Android devices.

More recently, SchoolBzz began using Amazon Translate to push school updates and assignment summaries to parents in their preferred language. In the future, the company envisions expanding its use of machine learning–based language services with Amazon Polly, Amazon Comprehend, and Amazon Transcribe to support the multi-language and accessibility needs of families. The platform currently translates 35,000 characters per week from classroom updates for families that aren’t native English speakers. “Over 20 percent of the population doesn’t speak English at home, so enabling families to access information in their preferred language via app, text, or voice is critical to keeping them connected,” says Larson.

The company also recently built a SchoolBzz for Alexa skill using AWS services, including Amazon Cognito for identity management. SchoolBzz for Alexa allows schools to broadcast morning announcements to families at home. In the future, the company plans to expand that voice experience, enabling parents to set up daily routines, get reminders, and request more information about class assignments and other relevant school activities. SchoolBzz is also participating in the AWS EdStart Voice Builder course and badge, a program AWS EdStart recently developed in partnership with the Alexa in Education team. This new AWS EdStart Member-exclusive offering can help EdTechs build voice-first experiences that create fun and engaging learning experiences, reach new users, and save time by streamlining access to their products with Amazon Alexa. “This feature was created based on feedback about the importance of voice to our EdTech customers and is an impactful new addition to an already robust program. This is exactly why I love being a member of AWS EdStart,” says Larson.

Larson’s long-term goal for SchoolBzz is to expand to a business-to-consumer (B2C) model and create an online community and marketplace for families. But for now, SchoolBzz is focused on improving school-to-home communications for the approximately 96 million parents with school-age children in the US. “Going forward, we’ll be looking to add services for identity management, analytics, security, voice technology, AI and machine learning, and other features which support the needs of our schools and families,” says Larson. “AWS services align well with that strategy.”


SchoolBzz

SchoolBzz simplifies how schools share information with families. Its proprietary solution saves teachers time and makes it easier for parents to get relevant information and become an active participant in their child’s education.

Benefits of AWS

  • Automates classroom updates
  • Eliminates redundant tools
  • Requires no teacher training
  • Supports multiple languages
  • Averages 76% adoption per school
  • Translates 35,000 characters per week for non-native-English-speaking families

AWS Services Used

AWS EdStart

AWS EdStart, the AWS educational technology (EdTech) startup accelerator, is designed to help entrepreneurs build the next generation of online learning, analytics, and campus management solutions on the AWS Cloud.

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Amazon Translate

Amazon Translate is a neural machine translation service that delivers fast, high-quality, and affordable language translation.

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AWS Lambda

AWS Lambda lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers. You pay only for the compute time you consume.

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Amazon Simple Storage Service

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.

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