by  Mariana Shchetyna

Bridging the Gap: Using Gen AI to Get Parents Engaged in Their Children's Education

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How SoftServe used Google Cloud’s AI/ML tools to foster meaningful parental involvement

America’s Students Are Falling Behind

Headlines across the nation paint a bleak picture of American education.

"Scathing new report says American schools are 'failing the COVID generation'" - USA Today

"Test scores show American students slipping further behind despite recovery efforts" - Associated Press

"Half of US Public School Students Lag Behind, Report Says" - Bloomberg News

"Parents Don't Understand How Far Behind Their Kids Are in School" - The New York Times

The pandemic undoubtedly worsened the learning loss experienced, but now students are slipping even further behind.

A recent federal government survey revealed that, on average, an alarming 50% of public school students are behind their grade level in various subjects. Test scores have also declined across socioeconomic and racial groups, further emphasizing the gravity of the situation.

However, what's even more concerning is that despite the headlines, many parents are unaware of how far their children have fallen behind. While testing data shows a significant number of students off track, almost 90% of parents believe their child is learning at the appropriate grade level.

Addressing this learning gap is complicated, especially in subjects like math that require sequential learning. Accelerating lesson plans for sequential subjects is not a viable solution.

Parents who want to support their children face a daunting challenge. Assessing what the child needs support in, determining how best to provide that support, and finding the activities and resources that can deliver improvement can be overwhelming and time-consuming. It will also vary significantly by student, and many parents may not even know where to start looking.

Meanwhile, placing the burden on educators is not a practical solution either. Teachers and administrators already face countless demands on their time and resources. Expecting them to facilitate parental support is simply unrealistic.

The Power of Parental Involvement for Student Success

Yet, while parents may struggle to know how best to help, studies consistently show that parental involvement is crucial for maximizing student success. Across different ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses, when parents and families actively engage in their children's education, academic results improve significantly.

Research proves that school-supported efforts to increase parental involvement correlate to higher math and reading scores. Additionally, family involvement enhances reading comprehension, boosts student interest in reading, and increases attention levels in the classroom. Parental engagement doesn't stop at academics; it also improves a student’s participation in school, their motivation, and their social-emotional skills, while reducing instances of delinquency.

It's clear that family involvement is essential for students' educational outcomes. The key question now is: How can educators facilitate seamless engagement between students, families, and the school, without creating additional complications or burdens for parents?

AYO: When Technology Meets Education

While many school districts struggled during the pandemic to expand their use of technology, the Mesquite, Texas Independent School District (Mesquite ISD) and SoftServe had already made moves to incorporate tech into learning. Their mission was to:

  1. Make tailored education effortless.
  2. Engage each student to ensure they are seen and supported.
  3. Dynamically pave pathways for students to discover greater potential.
  4. Cultivate a community where families are involved, districts are better prepared, and the learning process is improved.

The result was AYO, an innovative platform leveraging AI to make education effortless. No longer was education one-size-fits-all, as AYO provided students with personalized educational information aligned to their interests and aptitudes. Now that learning was tailored to each student's unique needs, AYO helped spark curiosity and increased engagement.

Dr. Angel Rivera, Superintendent of Mesquite ISD, praised AYO as a game-changer that caters to the passions and talents of every student. Through intelligent algorithms and recommendations, AYO introduces new interests, activities, certifications, and resources that match individual aspirations and pave the way for future success.

Outside of learning, AYO nurtures social-emotional development, empowering students to become leaders. It also fosters collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills — all of which are essential for thriving in today's workforce.

Designed to grow with students throughout their elementary and secondary education, AYO utilizes data such as grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities to build a holistic student profile. Alongside additional information provided by parents and educators, students themselves further customize their experience as they interact with AYO via surveys or user feedback.

This level of customization gives students agency over their education while providing educators with the insights they need to support each individual.

Using AI to Streamline Parental Engagement

Thanks to AYO, Mesquite ISD and parents understood that AI can improve learning processes. With AI's continual improvement and growth, SoftServe regularly introduced new features to make AYO easy to use while continuing to improve educational outcomes.

That's why SoftServe implemented the Family Feed in 2023 as part of a broader functionality designed to keep Mesquite ISD parents and students informed. This latest AYO feature now allows communication between district stakeholders, students, and families and provides district-wide news and alerts.

Yet, SoftServe's team wanted to ensure parents weren't just informed but also engaged. Mesquite ISD needed a way to help parents meaningfully participate in their child's learning, but without it being complicated.

Families in this school district faced additional complications to parental involvement. Many students come from migrant families who may lack the resources to fully engage and support them with their learning. In addition, it's likely that parents and other family members work multiple jobs, further complicating engagement because of time constraints.

Incorporating Generative AI to Maximize Student Success and Family Involvement

With Mesquite ISD stakeholders needing a way to support parental engagement, SoftServe’s experts incorporated an additional Family Feed functionality called Family Activity Suggestions.

Leveraging AYO's algorithms and Generative AI, this feature meant parents could actively participate in their child's learning without added complexity.

While advancements in Gen AI's ability to curate information have captured the attention of the tech world, few organizations have the capabilities to integrate it into their products or platforms due to its many complexities.

SoftServe's extensive experience with many of Gen AI’s building blocks including large language models (LLM), artificial intelligence, and machine learning means we can unlock its full potential.

The Family Activity Suggestions Functionality

Family Activity Suggestions

For the Family Activity Suggestions, SoftServe combined AYO’s algorithms with Gen AI to produce an extensive range of activity options tailored to individual student skills, passions, location, and schedule.

To do this, SoftServe experts interfaced with the Google Palm 2 model as the main LLM engine using Vertex AI Studio. The team also set up a custom translation service to maintain consistent quality and lessen LLM biases. They integrated this service with the Vertex AI Model Registry and Vertex AI Endpoint to deliver the best possible performance.

The outcome was a functionality that suggested activities meticulously curated to align with an individual student's skills and passions. These activity suggestions also factored in the student's location and schedule to ensure the suggestions were convenient. Quickly becoming a cornerstone of the AYO ecosystem, these Family Activity Suggestions empowered parents to nurture their children's talents with diverse and convenient activity recommendations.

Activity Recommendations
As students gain confidence in their capabilities, they become eager to explore new areas of interest and develop new skills, leading to improved academic success. Educators also benefit from better student performance, further amplifying the district's educational outcomes.

The Outcome

AYO's Family Feed, and specifically the Family Activity Suggestions, now fosters meaningful parental engagement. Parents can actively and meaningfully support their children's education without a burdensome learning curve. AYO automatically creates parental profiles to further streamline the process, and parents can access them with specific Mesquite ISD credentials. Families with multiple children get suggestions tailored for each child. Parents no longer need to devote endless hours researching appealing and appropriate options or navigating numerous resources.

The Results

Since its launch, this functionality has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents and Mesquite ISD stakeholders. Generating nearly 2,000 distinct activities from 400 student interests, our team collaborated closely with Mesquite ISD staff to meticulously evaluate each one. This vetting process ensures each suggestion is meaningful and suitable for students and their families before it’s approved and included. Close to 27,000 individual users have already benefited from this tool, receiving over 234,000 activity suggestions.

While it's still early to gauge the long-term impact, parents now have access to a comprehensive resource that seamlessly enhances their involvement in their child's education.

SoftServe’s Support Now Fosters Meaningful Parental Involvement

Over the last few years, AYO has become integral to Mesquite ISD’s overall educational strategies.

AYO's comprehensive scope fosters holistic student development and encourages parental engagement while supporting educators and Mesquite ISD stakeholders. This new feature aligns with AYO's thorough product development strategy, with elements designed to enrich the educational experience and better serve AYO users.

Now, with AYO's Family Activity Suggestions functionality, Mesquite ISD remains dedicated to elevating parental engagement levels and ensuring connectivity with families and students across the district.