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How One Innovator Made Student Phones a Teacher’s Best Friend

This Social Innovation Award winner developed an app, Klick Engage, that lets students use a rating system to tell their teachers how they’re feeling each day.

By Laura Zingg

October 15, 2018

An illustration of a woman

Every teacher knows what a weapon of distraction a student’s phone can be. But what if it could alert teachers to trauma?

Samantha Pratt (Miami–Dade '15) won a Teach For America pre-pilot track Social Innovation Award for developing an app, Klick Engagethat lets students use a color-coded rating system to tell their teachers how they’re feeling each day—signaling mental health risks or just a rough day ahead.

Here’s how Pratt succeeded in co-opting, rather than fighting, the student phone.

She embraced scalability. In the school where Pratt taught, most of her students were experiencing complex trauma. With just one counselor for roughly every 500 students, Pratt went after a fast-scaling solution. “I initially wanted to do a mentorship program, bringing volunteer counselors into the school,” she says. “But it would take so long to develop the program to scale. Kids needed something immediately. That’s when I pivoted to the app.”

She relied on the most ubiquitous, reliable technology available. Pratt’s school was no different from many others; her classroom iPads had cracked screens and broken chargers. The one piece of technology most students could rely on was a personal phone, which kids regularly used to follow along with school-based apps in class. “I’m often asked by funders, ‘What if there’s no tech?’ There’s always tech in students’ pockets.”

She trusted how kids really feel about their phones. Pratt was nervous to use what felt like impersonal technology to draw out students’ emotions—until she discovered that for students, the screen was a shield, not a barrier. One of Pratt’s angriest students refused to talk to adults. But he did feel comfortable using his phone to say how he felt. That gave Samantha a place to start when he felt ready to open up. “The phone gives students an extra layer of protection” she says, “so they can be vulnerable.”

Illustration by Elan Harris