A life-changing illness spurred one tech innovator to rethink how parents and teachers communicate, and to launch a community-centered classroom app.
Redmond resident Chakrapani Appalabattula was suddenly stricken with multiple episodes of double vision in 2013. After a series of tests, doctors diagnosed him with a rare inflammatory brain complication.
During that time, the care for his two grade-school children fell mostly on his wife, who had to keep up with their daily activities between the two schools they attended. During those difficult months, when Appalabattula was unsure of how his health would evolve, his background in technology and education sparked the idea to create a parent-to-teacher communication platform.
Appalabattula emigrated from India to the United States in 1998 to work for Microsoft. In 2000, he started working with startups, and in 2007, his tech experience intersected with education when he worked with Global Scholar, an education-technology company focused on building toolset solutions for schools.
“That’s when it came to us,” he said of his idea to launch a communication app. “I could clearly see that it’s so hard for parents to connect in today’s world. And there’s a younger generation of parents that grew up with mobile technology, so they’ll have a harder time staying on top of what’s going on with their kids.”
Parent and teacher communication can be convoluted at best — arriving in many forms from physical letters and emails, to texts and social media pages — so Appalabattula knew there was a need for a one-stop mobile app that facilitated communication but also built a stronger classroom community for the parents. His own children’s teachers confirmed a desire to have an all-encompassing platform, citing parent frustration over floods of emails, and teachers’ desires for a platform similar to classroom Facebook pages but with additional security.
In 2015, Appalabattula did a soft-launch of Bloomz, a desktop and mobile app that now supports instant messaging, calendar events, student behavior profiles, attendance, and photo and video sharing to a handful of teachers. In March 2015, 25 teachers were using the app, and by the end of the year, that number leaped to 15,000 teachers.
Bloomz took off, earning accolades such as the Best Parent-Teacher/School Communication App for 2017 by the Tech Edvocate Awards. Appalabattula said he is proud that teachers in 25,000 schools throughout the United States and beyond are using the app and connecting with Bloomz’s 1.85 million users.
The Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics approached Bloomz to test the app as a tool to communicate with parents about child care techniques. The initial findings revealed 88 percent of parents said they learned something new, so the academy signed on for a five-year agreement to push health care communications out through Bloomz.
Appalabattula said the creation of Bloomz was driven by a need and want to increase parent engagement, because research shows students perform better in school when the parents are involved and interested in their school work. From his perspective as a parent, his attention is torn between two kids involved in different activities and attending different schools. Parents have a limited amount of time to keep track of everything, but a streamlined tool that allows parents and teachers to instant message, schedule conferences, and see pictures and videos of school work makes it easier.
“Parents now can really participate in what’s happening in the classroom, and not by reading a long email but with pictures and videos, and they can be part of the learning process,” Appalabattula said. “Parents and teachers can have a two-way dialogue, and there’s a lot of visual communication, which is a great way for parents to have almost like a window of what’s happening in the classroom. And that creates talking points between parents and teachers, and also the child.”
He added, “The emotional cue (from children) is that, ‘My parents care about what I’m doing.’ Emotional and social development is the foundation for kids to do really well when they grow up. Parents can do that without it being a burden for them.”
Courtney Bellissimo, a second-grade teacher at Cascadia Montessori School in Redmond, started using the app about a year ago when her school integrated it into its system. Appalabattula’s son attends the school, so they agreed to try it. Bellissimo said before Bloomz, she primarily used email to communicate with parents, but now she has closer contact with them, and it gives parents the opportunity to share information with each other.
“I feel like we’re more connected,” she said. “I feel like I have a better relationship with (the parents) and I know their child a little more with what’s going on at home, if there is anything going on at home. (Parents) can send me a quick message or send me pictures if they take home the school pet.”
Bellissimo primarily uses the app to message parents and send them pictures of class projects, as well as easy sign-ups for conferences and volunteer opportunities. If a student is struggling with homework, she said, parents can upload it into a message and she can see where her student is having trouble.
“I feel like it’s really helped with my class,” she said. “Just really communicating and talking about things going on in the classroom.”
Every three to six months, Bloomz comes out with an update to enhance the current features or add new ones, as the team hears from users what’s working well and what could be improved. Appalabattula said his team is always anticipating how the app should evolve so it stays current with parents’ and educators’ needs.
Healthwise, Appalabattula said he’s fully recovered, with the use of experimental drugs that decreased the inflammation, and doctors are regularly monitoring his health. Sometimes the most difficult hurdles in our lives lead to award-winning ideas.
Bloomz Key Features
Parents and teachers can instant message, allowing the opportunity for quick check-ins during the day or after school. Parents also can connect as a group, which helps build classroom community and makes it easier to share information.
Photo and Video Sharing
One of the most-used features — it provides a window into the classroom so parents can see big projects their child is working on, or follow along during a field trip.
Parents can sign up for volunteer opportunities or select a date and time for parent-teacher conferences. No more relying on your child to bring a slip of paper back to the teacher.
Teachers can build a timeline of a student’s work, and the behavior tracking is especially helpful for students who are in the process of getting an individual education plan. Teachers can keep note of how a child is performing in class, and share it with the parent.
Bloomz is designed to be a one-stop shop, and can be set up to easily take attendance with the click of a button.