The International School of Denver in Colorado, USA, is a multicultural, multilingual school teaching Pre-K to 8th Grade students. It opened its Middle School in 2011 – implementing ManageBac from the start, under the leadership of Middle School Assistant Principal, Hope Forgey, who was MYP Coordinator at the time.
Rolling out ManageBac
Hope first came across ManageBac through IBARMS, her regional association of IB Schools, where she found that her mentors were using the platform in their own institutions. Her reaction on seeing the system for the first time was positive: “This is my jam, this looks beautiful and I want it!”
As the “visionary” leading the new Middle School venture, Hope took a highly strategic approach to ManageBac’s implementation, with colleagues using it “behind the scenes” for a full academic year before it was opened out to the whole school. This gave the Middle School team time for “mapping our curriculum, getting used to how our units were built, understanding how assignments would be done”, ready for parents and students to be welcomed into the system the following year.
“Take the time to understand it yourself before you open it up to everybody else,” advises Hope. “It needs to be closed off so you can map your curriculum and practise what it looks like assigning work and having things submitted”.
With her MYP Coordinator hat on, Hope enthuses about ManageBac’s Unit Planner and its role in helping them to launch ISDenver’s Middle School programme. “You can take an experienced IB educator or a brand new teacher, and no matter where you’re at in your journey to becoming an IB educator or becoming a better IB educator, that Planner is built for you,” she explains.
“It’s built to make your life easier. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, it prompts you to fill in the pieces that are necessary. Everything inside that Unit Planner is so powerful because it just makes the process so much easier.”
This has proven particularly useful in the context of the school’s IB evaluation, with Hope highlighting the ability to export the Unit Planner to a PDF in a couple of clicks as being particularly useful during this process: “When it comes time for you to get programme evaluation done, I cannot fathom working in a school where you didn’t have ManageBac,” she says. “I think I would cry!”
Student Empowerment & Inclusion
ManageBac may have transformed the lives of teachers at ISDenver, but its impact on students has been equally profound. “We always knew that we wanted to have one-to-one technology for our kids, and that we more than anything wanted our students to develop agency and autonomy, and understand that this is their education,” Hope explains.
“ManageBac allowed us to empower the students to take charge of their learning process. You open your Chromebook and there it is: everything you need to know, exactly what you’re working on, understanding your assignments, knowing your deadlines, tracking your work – all the things that are life skills were inherently built into ManageBac so beautifully that it took pressure off the teachers and it took pressure off parents.”
A key consideration has also been inclusivity: “One of the things that is amazing about ManageBac is that it has a lot of features that help students who have learning differences, or students who have executive functioning issues,” says Hope. “We created a whole-school methodology of colour-coding tasks – for example criteria-based, classroom, homework. This was so powerful, I don’t think I’ve seen this in other software programmes.”
Crucially, the platform also gives students the ability to choose what works for them: “By having both the calendar and the tasks and deadlines page, you’re offering multiple modalities for students to access that information, and they find the one that works best for them. That’s important whether or not you have a learning difference or executive functioning issues”, she adds.
Parent Experience – “nothing but praise for ManageBac”
ManageBac has proved popular with parents too. “They love that they can get a couple of clicks in and see a snapshot of where their kids are at,” Hope explains. “Parents feel empowered to go in and gather the information – what assignments their kids have missed, for example. Having that at their fingertips is pretty great.”
This continual transparency over students’ performance means that there are no surprises when report cards come out. “I tell people all the time that ManageBac has saved our lives in the sense that there’s no guessing about how the students are performing,” Hope tells us. “When they get an MYP final grade of 5, it’s completely justified based on all the feedback that’s there.”
Learning in a Pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, ISDenver was ready to pivot rapidly to online learning. “We wouldn’t have survived without ManageBac, because we were able to keep students and parents abreast of what was going on,” Hope recalls.
“The synchronous and asynchronous work was made possible by what ManageBac affords us to do. The Google Doc integration in ManageBac is the single most fantastic thing that has ever happened to me in my life. It functions perfectly. Collaborating on a document like that inside ManageBac and being able to look at it and provide feedback in real time is amazing.”
Finally, Hope is keen to stress the value of the ongoing support she receives from the ManageBac team, in particular having a named contact to whom she can go with any questions or issues. “What’s really struck me is how much patience ManageBac has for us,” she says. “I would even go further to say how much care is put into the conversation. They get where I’m coming from, they understand it, and they’re going to find a solution to the problem – and it’s rapid. It’s always a quick answer.”
The personal contact Hope receives from ManageBac support is especially meaningful. “It’s not just calling an 800 number and getting a recording. 24/7 you’re going to have a human being pick up the phone and not only answer it, but ask if there’s anything else they can help with,” she explains. “There’s a genuine human connection and you cannot put a price tag on that, that’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty rare these days.”
Summing up, Hope says, “I’ve looked, and there is simply no other software for an IB World School that functions the way ManageBac does. There just isn’t – I’m shocked. There’s no comparison.”
“We still haven’t tapped into all the ways we can use it!” she concludes.