I have been talking with districts for a few months now asking all sorts of questions around reunification. I’ve been trying to understand how much has been thought out, where potential problems are, and how much has been practiced. Every district so far has at least thought about reunification and has some things in mind for how to handle it. But as I start firing off some questions, almost every administrator starts scribbling down some notes and walks away with some to-dos. Sometimes just after simple questions like, “does your reunification site have Wi-Fi and do you know the password to it?”
From these discussions, we’ve been compiling a list of notes, questions, best practices, and common pitfalls. From what I’ve seen so far, very few districts have fully thought through the complexities of reunification and almost no one has actually practiced it. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and reunification can require a lot of organization to be pulled off quickly and safely.
My development team has also been working on a new module inside NaviGate Prepared called “Reunification.” While there are a ton of aspects with reunification that require processes that we can’t really help with, there are certain elements that technology certainly can help. Things like knowing which students have arrived at the reunification site, knowing exactly which students have already been reunified, and documenting which parents have arrived.
The Stuffed Animal Test
As developers, one key aspect of everything we do is testing things. Since we don’t have quick access to 20 students to practice this with, we had a few of our team members bring in stuffed animals from home (my kids are still asking when “Crackers” the parrot gets to come home again). We put name tags on all the stuffed animals, gave specific roles to our team, and ran through reunification several times to make sure everything worked and was easy to use.
After a few updates based on that feedback and “passing” the stuffed animals test, we needed to try things out in an actual school environment. We had already been discussing reunification thoughts and ideas with administrators at Chagrin Falls, so we reached out to see if we could run an actual reunification exercise with parents and students. Amanda Rassi, Assistant Principal at Chagrin Falls High School, jumped on the chance to run through an exercise like this and worked closely with us for several months pulling together details to make this happen.
On June 4th, we ran through a small-scale reunification exercise with volunteers including 25 students, 12 parents, first responders, and 30 staff and administrators. While NaviGate was able to field test our app and make sure it functioned as expected and users could pick it up quickly, Chagrin Falls was able to work through details on the entire process. Things like:
- pre-communication to the community about the test
- communication during the exercise
- notifying first responders, and being on the same page with their placement and involvement
- evacuation logistics and organization at their evacuation site
- methods and wording for notification to parents
- transportation to the reunification site with police escort
- parking concerns at the reunification site
- parent lines, flow of parents and students, waiting areas
- ways to validate guardians are allowed to pick-up students
- and many other things!
After the exercise, there was a quick debrief with questions and comments with all involved where we picked up more valuable feedback not only on the NaviGate app, but also on how to help schools set up test exercises like this.
Not many schools actually go through the process of practicing reunification like this, so I applaud Chagrin Falls administrators, students, staff, parents and first responders for being willing to put the time in and practice. I hope it’s an encouragement to other districts to try it out as well. Read the article from the Chagrin Valley Times.
Talk with us if you are interested in going through a reunification exercise. We’re working through guides and information that will help you through this process, and using the NaviGate Prepared app can make it even easier. Look for our new Reunification module as we begin rolling it out this fall!