This is the first from what will be a series of blogs from a new user of REACH who has offered to write about his experience with implementing and using REACH.

Chris Spann is the Head of Boarding at Peace Lutheran College, a mid-sized boarding school in the northern suburbs of Cairns catering up to 110 students across Australia and PNG. This is Chris’ description of his experience with REACH.

 Jumping in the Deep End – The first week.

For a number of years I’ve heard about the need to go electronic, to get with the times and how once set up it would change the way in which we do business, as well as saving us time (Every House Parents dream).

After the 2014 Boarding conference, I made the decision that it was well and truly time for boarding to move forward. I decided on REACH due to the fact it was the system that was being talked about with the most vigor and how it gave staff more time to spend with their students and not doing the endless paperwork.

Chris Spann is the Head of Boarding at Peace Lutheran College, a mid-sized boarding school in the northern suburbs of Cairns catering up to 110 students across Australia and PNG. This is Chris' description of his experience with REACH.

A couple of short emails and phone calls to Steven Montgomery from Touchline and I was all set to go on a Terms Trial. I thought initially that electronic roll marking would be all that I would be doing for the first year and that it take that long to train my staff in the system.

I had decided to trial REACH on only one of our Boarding Houses to see how the system would work “in the real world”. Along with running the REACH software, we also intended to continue our old paper trail processes “just to be sure”.

I spent the first two days playing with the system, looking at how it all connected together and adding some dummy data into a test student to see how it all played out.

REACH is an extremely configurable system. With a few mouse clicks, I could add custom locations (say a classroom for homework), add students to the group and mark the roll with any electronic device.

After the first week I decided that using the software just to mark the roll, was going to be a waste of an extremely powerful tool to our boarding community. Having the ability for any of my boarding staff to have instantaneous and up-to-date access to a student’s location was an essential ability to have.

The amount of positive interest that I received from staff has been an outstanding surprise to me. Showing the system working on an iPad Mini in “kiosk view”, being able to show them exactly where each of my boarders are currently located, just by the colour around their picture brought more than one “well isn’t that clever” comment.

My boarders have also shown a surprising amount of interest. I have had a couple of students apply for leave online. When talking to them about the process they thought it was easier for them, partially because they could do it whenever they wanted, and that they didn’t always have to find they hosts details.

The next step this week is to walk all of our trial boarders through the electronic leave process.

The support offered by Touchline has been great. My next entry will be describing just how easy the system has been to configure to our unique location.

“The boarders taught each other. It really was that easy. Once all of the leave requests where approved all it took from me was a simple click of the mouse and our Catering Manager knew how many meals were required for each meal.”

The Second Week

The next step this week is to walk all of our trial boarders through the electronic leave process. Last time I talked about jumping in the deep end with REACH and committing our process to an electronic format. It is all well and good to believe that the system is going to work, but unless the students are committed to using the new system, it can just as easily be a big waste of money.

Last time I talked about jumping in the deep end with committing our process to an electronic format. It is all well and good to believe that the system is going to work, but unless the students are committed to using the new system, it can just as easily be a big waste of money.

PeaceLutheran-ChrisSpann

Last time I talked about jumping in the deep end with committing our process to an electronic format. It is all well and good to believe that the system is going to work, but unless the students are committed to using the new system, it can just as easily be a big waste of money.

For the trial we are only using Mari Mari House. Twenty teenage boys, who have for the most part been in boarding for four to five years. These students have an ingrained way of doing things (especially leave).

forms-PeaceLutheran-ChrisSpannAfter setting up the system, I took the plunge and removed our paper leave slips. In their place I replaced the leave slips with a note saying where to find Peace’s REACH portal and how to log into it.

The first boarder asked two questions about how to request leave after which I received no more questions, by the end of the night all of my boarders had submitted their overnight weekend leave. The boarders taught each other. It really was that easy.

Once all of the leave requests where approved all it took from me was a simple click of the mouse and our Catering Manager knew the number of boarders that we would have for each meal.

meals-PeaceLutheran-ChrisSpannOne of the useful functions I like in the software is a popup window telling me if a student should have left by a certain time, or is late returning. This allows all staff to keep an eye on what our boarders are doing. Another is the meal count so meals can be allocated according to leave requests which allows for a substantial saving to occur. Over the course of a couple of weeks it has become obvious that some hosts never showed up at the times they have indicated. REACH makes it easy to identify them so we can discuss the responsibilities a host has towards our boarders.

I know every institution does things just a little bit differently and this is where we find REACH comes into its own. REACH has made it easy from my perspective. Customising the locations students can sign out to and adding student groups, for study, sport teams or school clubs allows for easy attendance and location checks to occur.  I can see the days of receiving a phone call to check on the location of a student disappearing before my eyes.

For us, having parents email approval for leave requests is not a realistic option at this stage because a large number of our boarders come from remote communities or from PNG (those that know PNG will understand that communications can be difficult, even at the best of times). Therefore, we rely on the use of phone calls and, yes the humble fax machine.

All the staff in Mari Mari House, now use the REACH system. Paper is no longer being used for leave, head checks or medications. Now that head checks and leave appear to be sorted, I am in the process of setting up the Pastoral care components of the software and by the start of Term 2 I hope to have our pastoral care system running on REACH also.

Chris Spann, Head of Boarding at Peace Lutheran College in Cairns as he talks about his school’s journey implementing REACH.