Keeping connected with military families during hybrid learning

A director of technology shares his best practices for building and maintaining a community among a highly mobile population
By: | October 14, 2020
Dr. Roland Rios and a student who attends the at Fort Sam Houston Independent School District. (Photo provided)

Dr. Roland Rios is the director of technology at Fort Sam Houston Independent School District.

As a school district located on a military base, Fort Sam Houston Independent School District has a more fluid student body than most schools. As military personnel move on or off our base, their children enroll in our school or move on to their next one.

All of this coming and going, predicated upon service to our country rather than academic need, can make it difficult to build community. One thing we’ve found to be indispensable, whether it’s a typical academic year or one interrupted by a pandemic, is using a consistent channel for communication while allowing individual teachers some flexibility in how they connect with students and families.

Offering teachers tech choices…

Educators all over the country received an object lesson in the power of flexibility in the spring. From repurposing staff computers for students to take home to converting bus systems for meal-delivery or technology drive-up distribution lines, we all worked to put whatever we had to use for our students and communities. Fort Sam Houston ISD was no different.

Our schools were already 1:1 technology environments, so all our students had devices assigned to them. Our elementary students were leaving their devices at school when the pandemic hit, so we organized a drive-through to get their assigned devices into their hands.

One area where our teachers had to improvise a bit on their own, both in the spring and now as we have some students back on campus, was in their communications tools. Some teachers use Google Meet to host classes, while others use Zoom, for example, and our younger students were using Seesaw as their learning management system while the rest of our students and teachers used Google Classroom.

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That’s enough different platforms that students or their families might become overwhelmed and miss important information because they’re just lost out there in cyberspace somewhere. Though we began the fall semester virtual, we’re inviting about 25% of our students – those who are most in need of support – back to campus, which makes things even more complicated.

Fortunately, we have a central communication tool that puts everyone on the same page. A student may not know if they need to be on Meet or Zoom, but they know to check Bloomz to find out.

…While making sure parents have one source of information

Just as a central and consistent messaging channel is necessary to give our teachers the flexibility to choose the collaboration tools that work best for themselves and their students, it’s been the foundation we needed to keep in touch with parents.

Using one communication tool across the district allows us to have a central office community online and gives us a channel to direct all parents to. When we have to make last-minute changes, we put it on as many channels as we can, but instant messages through Bloomz are the most effective.

When we announced that we’d be welcoming back some students, for example, we put the information out on all five of our websites, Twitter, Facebook, and Bloomz. It was Bloomz that exploded, however. It had the highest level of engagement and I was immediately answering questions left and right. And that’s a good thing! I could have silenced comments and questions with the push of a button, but the impromptu Q&A session provided healthy transparency that gave us an opportunity to provide a lot more clarity in the moment.

When we adopted Bloomz, much of the draw was in the functionality it gives teachers to build a community that extends beyond the classroom to students’ families. The fact that families know where to turn for information about their school community even when we can’t be in the classroom together has been critical to maintaining that community.

Dr. Roland Rios is the director of technology at Fort Sam Houston Independent School District. He can be reached at

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