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Parent Zone’s sister organisation, Youth Zone, launches VoiceBox: a unique content platform by young people, for young people

Youth Zone aka YZ – Parent Zone’s ‘sister organisation’ – has launched VoiceBox, an international content platform led by young people for young people.

Created by YZ’s ambitious startup team – all of whom are in their twenties – VoiceBox is a space for 14 to 25-year-olds around the world to talk about anything they want.

Max and Natalie, YZ’s USA-based International Leads, explain further: “We can see the internet changing and we want to provide the roadmap. Straightforward user-generated content has led to fake news, hate speech and content bubbles.” says Max. “We want to offer a better model. A space for young voices to be heard, with the responsible approach of more traditional media” finishes Natalie.

Whether they’re writers, vloggers, podcasters, artists or memesters, VoiceBox encourages them to share their ideas and experiences on the site and shout about them across social media.

The idea for the project goes back to 2019 – but with a fast-changing political, social and digital landscape, it couldn’t be more timely in winter 2020. VoiceBox is just one of many YZ projects designed to elevate young people’s voices in conversations that – the team argues – often happen without them.

“We see lots of well-intentioned organisations developing products and services for young people.” explains Lottie, YZ’s Engagement Lead. “But the extent to which young people are meaningfully involved or listened to really varies.”

“We want to change that.” continues Cal, YZ’s Content Lead. “Young people should be at the heart of these conversations, shouting about their ideas and experiences – and challenging everyone to do better.”

Through VoiceBox, YZ are already inviting young people to drive cutting-edge projects from the world of tech, popular culture and mental health – including Ollee, a ‘digital friend’ funded by BBC Children in Need and developed by Parent Zone. But they’re keen to grow – and reach out to young people around the world.

“Having grown up in a global digital world, the old-fashioned boundaries between one country and another, or the so-called online and offline worlds, feel less relevant to us.” notes Ed, YZ’s Business Development Lead. “VoiceBox truly is a platform for all young people – wherever they might be. We hope policy makers, organisations and – of course – lots of young people will join us and get involved.”

Visit VoiceBox at voicebox.site

Don’t let past experiences interfere with schooling

 

An area which has been a challenge for our school, and indeed many, is how do we effectively engage parents and carers in their child’s education?  Past experiences often form our opinions in life. For many adults, school wasn’t always a pleasant experience meaning that they are less likely to engage in their child’s education or with their school.  Added to this, the current climate of social distancing, parental and carer engagement and reassuring them of what is happening in class has never been more challenging.

At Heronswood our school ethos is to give children a genuine, emotional connection with their learning, as it is then that they will achieve the highest standards. Fundamental to this is useful and meaningful engagement with the parents and carers of our 410 pupils, helping them work together with our teachers to ensure that every child in every class reaches their full potential.  

Communications fit for purpose

Today, parent communication is more than comments and marks in a school report and a once a year report evening. A key area of focus at our school this year was improving parental engagement.  We wanted every child’s parent or carer to be aware of what was happening in the classroom; to understand what the pupils were learning, why it was necessary and to share in their achievements.  But, with a high percentage of parents with English as an additional language, communications have proved tricky as for some of our pupils, English is not a language spoken in their homes.  We recognised that sending home letters about the curriculum or rewards was not working as some adults couldn’t understand the messages being sent.  This created a further challenge as often; those parents were only receiving basic information from the school.  They had little understanding of what was happening in the classroom and what learning their child was taking part in.  A further challenge for us was that in the current pandemic, we felt giving out physical reward badges to the children was best avoided. Still, we also recognised how crucial they were in boosting children’s esteem after so much time out of the classroom. 

 

Support at home enhances success

EdTech has undoubtedly helped at Heronswood. We’ve gone from communicating to 70% of our families to 100% of parents and carers in just two weeks, and we received thousands of positive virtual ‘high-fives’ from parents and carers, showing that they are engaged in their child’s learning in the classroom. 

The impact of parental engagement can have such a positive influence on a child’s education, and Heronswood is on a mission to ensure that every child goes home each day to parents or carers who are aware of what they had been working on in class and their achievements. Parents need messages of reassurance to home if a child is finding something tricky, or perhaps they would like a reminder to do homework.

We knew the best way to close the engagement gap is to improve parental communications, and here are my top tips to help:

  • Break down barriers by using a familiar format such as mobile comms
  • Pick a format which is easily accessible for parents
  • Share positive news, not just the dreaded ‘phone call home.’
  • Put the onus on teachers to communicate with parents about daily events and rewards
  • Involve parents in the decision process of how you communicate, what do they think of it?
  • Ask parents for feedback regularly, know what’s working and what isn’t

More hours in the day

Teachers across the country know that school life is hectic with minimal hours in the day to pack everything in.  Throw in the pandemic and teachers are stretched to their limits.  With the EdTech platform, our teachers are benefitting from no more writing ‘please remember to read for 20 minutes’ in 30 home school diaries.  Now, Teachers can say, today we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Please ask your child about the characters. Or your child should read for 10 minutes today with an adult.  For our reception children, the teacher can send a voice message saying, “Today we’ve learnt the sound ‘fffff’ ask your child to show you some things around the home beginning with the sound ‘ffff'” and they can easily and quickly send through the reward badges to parents and carers. It’s a fantastic way to help parents support their child’s learning in the right way and saves so much time. 

Looking forward, I can’t see that we’ll ever go back to traditional communication methods.  EdTech is the way forward if we want to ensure effective communications with parents and carers, reduce the number of hours that teachers spend on admin, and in turn, ensure that every child achieved their full potential in learning.

Mrs Pierpoint is Head Teacher of Heronswood Primary School and pre-School, part of Rivers C of E Academy Trust in Worcestershire.  The school use http://www.marvellousme.com/ to improve parental engagement.