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New REACH Sign-in System Garners Both Support and Criticism

Andover made the switch from a paper-based sign out procedure to a digital system known as REACH this fall. REACH is a student management software that aims to improve communication, efficiency, and safety throughout the sign-out process, according to the company’s website.

The software features both an online and an app-based platform where students can submit leave requests and faculty can view and manage these leaves. The administration decided to make the switch to REACH in an effort to ease the sign-out process for both students and faculty and to alleviate concerns and confusion surrounding student whereabouts, according to Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life.

Elliott said, “[The decision to switch] mostly had to do with keeping track of all of our kids on the weekends… [REACH] makes it way easier at the macro-level to keep track of everyone. The dean who’s on duty is responsible for, in theory, 848 boarders, so to have a system where you can actually know where everyone is, and where they are supposed to be and when [makes] it was way easier for them.”

Elliott explained that REACH, a Canadian and Australian-based company, first approached the Andover community five years ago while attempting to expand their program in the United States. In addition to REACH, the administration considered a similar system called Boardingware, but ultimately chose REACH because of its ability to acclimate to the Andover community.

“REACH and Boardingware both approached us for the last five years or so, but… [REACH’s] company is based out of Canada and Australia, [so] they’re trying to build their model in the U.S. We had both [companies] come to campus and do presentations—it just felt like REACH had worked through a little more of its hiccups. Andover wants to customize things so it works for us, and it felt like REACH was going to have more ability to adapt,” Elliot said.

The software has succeeded in meeting the objective of improving the leave process in terms of both efficiency and convenience, according to Jill Meyer ’09, Instructor in Chemistry and Biology, who serves as a house counselor in Paul Revere Hall.

“I’ve found it really helpful to be able to go the dashboard and be able to see who is in the dorm versus outside of the dorm, whose permissions have we received, who’s still waiting for approval from a host, so it really does feel so much easier,” Meyer said.

Additionally, Sara Erdmann, Instructor in English and House Counselor in Paul Revere Hall, said that the REACH system simplifies the sign-in system significantly from a faculty’s perspective as opposed to a student perspective.

Erdmann said, “I’m in full support of the move to an online system. Using slips of paper was both wasteful and much harder to keep track of, particularly in a very large dorm. From a faculty standpoint, [REACH] is actually quite simple and involves far fewer emails between parents, hosts, and students.” Erdmann said.

Despite its positive reception among faculty members, the REACH system has not found as much support among students. Many students have faced difficulty with the app’s interface, encountering frequent random errors or “glitches” which inhibit a student’s ability to submit a leave request, according to Brooklyn Wirt ’21 and Eby Mackenzie ’20.

Wirt said, “After opening [the app] and seeing how the keyboard doesn’t even work well with the iPhone [and how] it closes out randomly sometimes and glitches constantly, it just feels like a very flawed system that hasn’t been updated in a long time with the progression of technology… It just doesn’t work.”

Mackenzie said, “I think just anything online has the ability to glitch and mess up things, so I think that’s really the only thing the paper system has on REACH. Paper doesn’t glitch or mess up your dates — it’s what you write down….like I just submitted a leave request, and then had to do it all over again because REACH messed up my dates, so that’s definitely a disadvantage [of the online system].”

The administration is aware of these glitches, however, and is working with members of the REACH company in effort to smooth out reported defects, according to Elliott.

“Claudia Scofield, [BlueCard Manager], in the Dean of Students Office has been amazing in dealing with complaints and frustrations and sort of looking at [the program] and tracking how it’s working and then communicating with REACH to say ‘the app is really frustrating and kids are having a hard time with it’ or whatever feedback she has for them,” Elliott said.

Glitches are typically expected from new software products, and most of the issues seem to be related to the REACH app instead of the website services, according to Scofield. Scofield advises students facing problems with the app to contact a faculty member for technical support.

Scofield wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “If students have problems, they should reach out to either their house counselor or me and we can help troubleshoot the problem. We have seen a significant reduction in the number of issues since we launched in September and will continue to make the system an easy, reliable application for students, parents, and faculty to use.”

Looking into the future, Elliott explained the possibility of an online initial sign-in protocol during the week through the REACH software.

“The REACH system actually has a lot more capability that we might explore. I know students are really hoping that we’ll look into electronic sign in and sign out during the week, and that’s something we might be able to do through the REACH app,” said Elliott.

Editor’s Note: Juliet Gildehaus is an Associate Sports Editor for The Phillipian.

Dec 14, 2018