Mobile Marketer has re-launched! Click here to learn more!

Harlem school engages parents via SMS

When it comes to keeping parents involved with their children, a text message has more immediacy than an email. Ask New York's Harlem Success Academy.

The school made the most of its communications by adopting a text message campaign. As a school whose limited resources also reflect the economic situation of its students and families, SMS was the best approach, said Jenny Sedlis, director of external affairs at Harlem Success Academy.

"First and foremost, we achieved a very high level of parent engagement in students' academic success," she said. "Second, the mobile messaging program helped us to become a much more efficient operation."

For its mobile initiative, Harlem Success Academy employed CellTrust's SMS Gateway. Increasing parental involvement was the academy's No. 1 priority. It needed to be able to send out alerts and notifications, whether it was for a planned event or unexpected happenings, such as inclement weather or threat of danger.

The school claimed the initiative worked. During the academy's inaugural 2006-07 school year parental involvement reached nearly 100 percent, said Sean Moshir, CEO of CellTrust, Scottsdale, AZ.

Harlem Success Academy's parental involvement metric was largely achieved through regular and timely text messages concerning events, administrative procedures, attendance, recruitment, grades/homework assignments and other relevant alerts.

Texting works for a variety of different people, offering a way to deliver succinct information. It can reach consumers wherever they are, and because more people have mobile phones than PCs, it's said to be more practical.

Having a PC in the home is still a luxury in some communities. Consumers who can't afford to have both mobile service and traditional phone service are abandoning landlines altogether.

If Asian and European markets are an example, SMS will surpass email to become the preferred method of text-based communication in the coming years, per Mr. Moshir.

"SMS and text will be the first option of communication, and if that doesn't satisfy your communication then you will look to email," he said.

CellTrust's SMS gateway is multichannel. It has text messaging, email and voice, so if a user sends a message to someone who doesn't have a voicemail it has the capability to automatically convert to email. Using text-to-speech it can dial a regular landline and read the user the message.

The company offers discounts to educational institutions. It charges $1 a student per year for its Campus React service, which broadcasts updates to entire campus populations.

In support of the idea that mobile phones can improve community involvement on all levels, CellTrust donated its SMS solution to Harlem Success Academy for 2008. The company is seeking other interested schools and nonprofits that can benefit from its SMS solutions.

Harlem Success Academy now educates 280 students kindergarten through second grade. It will open 40 more schools serving high-need communities in New York over the next decade.