School gives artificial intelligence chatbot a try

Photo by Roman Pohorecki from Pexels

MASSENA — The Massena Central School District is using artificial intelligence to better communicate with students and families.

AllHere’s chatbot uses two-way texting and an intelligent knowledge base to communicate with families and students and reduce staff time.

The district will be using the chatbot, which they’ve called Raider, until June at no charge.

“It’s a company based out of Boston, and they had a great opportunity to participate in using the chatbot for six months. So we get to use it for six months for free,” Community Schools Director Kristin Colarusso-Martin told board of education members Thursday night.

“We’re excited about continuing our goal to improve communication with our community and engagement with our parents,” Superintendent Patrick Brady said.

Ms. Colarusso-Martin said Massena is the first school in New York to participate in the program, along with other schools around the country.

“It’s a software platform that will allow us to increase our student and parent engagement as well as support our attendance initiatives by using artificial intelligence to communicate with our families and our students,” she said.

For instance, she said, if there was a change in the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal pickup date at the school, that information could be relayed to families via a chatbot message.

“Raider will send a text message to all the families in the district. Then a parent can text in a question. They can say, ‘Where do I pick it up,’ and Raider says, ‘Which school does your child attend?’ So it will talk back and forth. The more that we use it, the smarter it will actually get,” Ms. Colarusso-Martin said.

She said they were excited to use artificial intelligence to support the district’s initiatives, such as improving attendance rates.

“On the attendance side of it, Raider will send families and parents a nudge when a student has missed a certain amount of days of school, and we can set the parameters for that,” she said. “Later down along the line, we’ll actually be able to have the capacity to reach out to high school students directly, though we opted not to do that until the fall if we feel like the software and the licenses are really valuable to us. So far, the data is showing that it’s increasing attendance rates up to 17 percent, which is great.”

Board member Paul Haggett wondered if additional grant funding would be available if they decided to continue using the chatbot after June, “or are we going to have to pony up whatever this feature is going to cost to continue.”

Ms. Colarusso-Martin said that if they were seeing noticeable improvement and decided to stay with the program, it would be about $500 for each school.

“This gives us a chance to look at it and see if it’s something we want to pursue,” Mr. Brady said.

“It’s a lot more minimal cost than I thought it would be,” Mr. Haggett said.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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