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For fifteen years, Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s Upward Bound Program has provided high school students with four years of continuous college preparation.
Kennedy Jewell is an Academic Coordinator for Upward Bound. She and her team work closely with over 100 students from area high schools each academic year.
Upward Bound’s busy curriculum consists of bi-weekly school meetings, monthly assignments, ongoing academic advising, and monthly academic activities. These sometimes include events that take place on Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s campus.
"Many of the students we work with are first-generation college-bound students. They also tend toward the lower end of the income spectrum. We act as their ‘right-hand man’ - helping with everything from ACT waivers to books. We’re always in contact sending reminders, RSVPs, and all kinds of messages."
Despite having so many students and a busy schedule, Upward Bound takes a high-touch approach to advising and mentoring. They frequently make in-person visits to area high schools and host live events.
But, that was before the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to virtual learning.
In early March 2020, Kennedy realized Upward Bound needed a new way to keep connected to students.
Phone calls proved time-consuming and ineffective. Especially since many students would never answer the phone. Email wasn’t the right tool for the job either. Many of the messages Upward Bound needed to send contained important information and time-sensitive reminders that required immediate action.
“When the pandemic first hit we tried calling, but we’d just get sent to voicemail. Students would often text us back, so we decided to make the shift. Our students didn’t like phone calls and we weren’t getting the response we needed so we started texting.”
But Kennedy and her team needed a better solution than texting over 100 students from their personal cell phones. They had no way of scheduling or sending group text messages to individual students without everyone seeing the message. Nor did they have a way to organize students into groups based on their high school, region, or grade level.
Upward Bound needed SMS text messaging for schools. A type of teacher texting app where multiple administrators could log in. Where everyone could see all open student conversations, and send texts to students using a separate, dedicated 10-digit phone number.
So, Kennedy started researching solutions.
“I looked at GroupMe, and a lot of mainstream communication apps. But I couldn’t find an app that could send SMS messages to a group of 100 students and they could individually reply without the text getting read by 99 others.”
Kennedy knew that she needed a more business-focused texting service. Something that could handle multiple users logging in and sending group texts to individual students, all from the same number.
She quickly eliminated consumer apps like GroupMe. Getting students to download and log in to a new app would be too clunky. Kennedy also found mass text messaging apps and several teacher texting apps where teachers could text students and parents. But none of these solutions had all of the features she and her team needed.
After Googling phrases like “text messaging services” and “group text without reply all” Kennedy found MessageDesk.
She looked first at MessageDesk’s group text features as those were the most important for her. Additionally, she needed an easy way to organize students into groups with custom fields. Custom fields would give her the ability to specifically organize students by grade level, high school, region etc.
After visiting the MessageDesk website, Kennedy started a 7-day free trial. Her trial came with 50 free text messages. This gave her and her other team members some time to test and play with MessageDesk’s messaging features, specifically Broadcasts.
What really made Kennedy’s decision easy was talking with Kyle, one of MessageDesk’s solutions experts.
Kyle’s role is to listen and help find specific, tailored, messaging solutions based on need. He often advises and creates messaging strategies for businesses and organizations of all sizes.
He also helps businesses and organizations format and import their contact information. This means setting up groups, adding custom fields, and even helping craft the right message content for getting responses and engagement.
Kyle spoke with Kennedy. He answered all of her questions and personally walked her through the app. He also helped get everything set up.
“Kennedy needed a fast, simple way to organize students into groups and send them a message. It seems simple, but a lot of text messaging providers that send messages via shortcode just don’t quite nail it. You lose the conversational aspect of messaging in their processes. Conversational messaging is really at the core of MessageDesk. So I simply advised Kennedy of how to best organize her groups, set up her custom fields, and get to texting.”
It only took Kennedy a few days to start texting all of her students at scale with MessageDesk.
“The setup process was easy. The only hard part was organizing our lists of phone numbers and names. I loved having the downloadable contact template - that was super easy to just copy and paste our data. The only hard part really was trying to make sure we had the right phone numbers for all our students.”
Upward Bound got immediate responses once their students found out they could reply directly, and that their reply wasn’t going to other students. This led to an increase in engagement.
“We originally needed a fast, efficient way to send reminders and keep connected with over 100 students. But with MessageDesk’s text messaging we’ve actually increased attendance, engagement, and participation.”
Kennedy and her team now save hours every week sending group Broadcasts with MessageDesk. They also find that they get more personal engagement just by sending 1-on-1 messages and following up with students.
“We send out at least 8 bi-weekly broadcasts reminding students about Zoom meetings. But we also send messages to all of our students about every other day. Some messages we send we’re not asking for a response, just an update.”
One of the most important features that Kennedy and her team take advantage of is scheduling text messages in advance.
“Typically, we schedule texts the day before. This is because the only time we can contact students is between 3-5 pm because they’re in school. We save a bunch of time when we can schedule a text for say, 3:15 and start getting instant replies. Literally, it saves us hours.”
Upward Bound has even found success in texting links to Google Forms for instant RSVPs and student questionnaires.
“Yesterday we attached a Google Form to the text message and within 30 minutes we had 40 responses…. Being able to text students at scale has really freed us up to work on other important things.”
In the future, Kennedy plans on sending more links to Google Forms.
“We’ve really liked being able to add in links to Google Forms. So we’re going to do more RSVPs and surveys in the future. Just yesterday we sent an RSVP survey asking students if they’d be coming to an event that we’re hosting. We asked them to share their address and it was great getting nearly 40 responses almost immediately.”
When asked why she might recommend MessageDesk, Kennedy told us, “Sending a text message is easy. It’s a fast, reliable way to communicate with students.”
MessageDesk is here to keep you connected with smarter, simpler business text messaging.
Visit our learning center for more information on how to get started with MessageDesk. You’ll find a quick start guide to texting, a features overview, and an explanation of what MessageDesk is.