Mobile App Increases College Planning Attendance, Says High School Head Counselor Johnathan Burke

In an interview with Lisa Williams, President of Media Authority Marketing, Johnathan Burke, Head Counselor at Palisades High School in Grand Junction, Colorado, shared how a mobile app increased attendance to college planning events and how it helped with communication between parents, faculty, and students.  Burke’s school was the first in its area to implement a mobile app and he spoke of the many benefits his school has experienced.

One of those benefits has been how much the kids have enjoyed the app. Burke shared that the students enjoy being alerted about sporting and social events. He also shared that the calendar was a big help in regards to ensuring there are no missed deadlines for college scholarships.

He has found another big benefit to be the counseling department being able to send reminder push notifications (which are similar to text messages) to parents and students. Burke says, “With the addition of push notifications, we’ve seen a sharp increase in attendance to certain events like financial aid nights, back to school nights, and college nights, just because we’re hitting them with the information in a way that is easily accessible to them. It’s right there in their pocket and we have the ability to send reminders of when things are happening like parent teacher conferences and that kind of stuff.”

With everyone living such busy lives, Burke shared that it is important for schools to put themselves out there by giving parents and students a means of communication that is relevant to their lives. Emails and text messages allow communication to be delivered on the go, wherever they currently might be. Scaling that concept up is the big win for mobile apps as push notifications are mass producible like emails, quickly seen and read like text messages, but all the while free. This mode of communication has been highly effective for Palisades High School.

Williams asked Burke about a recent situation where their school was put on lock down. This has happened twice, once before the mobile app was implemented, and once after. She asked if emergency situations encouraged the school to implement the app.

Burke responded by sharing that the first situation was not an emergency, but an incident that had happened a few blocks away. The school was inundated with phone calls all day long, while students texted their parents from classrooms to tell them the school was on lock down. Rumors floated from parent to parent, varying from a wild animal being on the loose to bands of ninjas loose in the school.

Burke said the second time the school was on lock down, having the app made a huge difference: The best thing the app does is allows us to send information to all the parents at one time and say the school is in lock down for a precaution, no one is in danger, everyone is fine. The amazing thing is after the incident, unlike when we used to get flooded with calls; we only had two phone calls. Parents knew what happened and when kid’s texted out to their parents with rumors, parents would text back and say “no it’s all fine, we just got a text from the school.” A very different outcome with having the ability to contact parents and inform them right away.

He also shared that the app played a huge role in keeping part of the school off campus during the recent lock down. Palisades High School offers off-campus lunch, and the lock down happened right at the end of lunchtime. The app allowed a notice to go out to all students that stated, “If you are off campus please stay off campus until you hear back from us.”

In a serious lock down situation, the kids who were off campus would have been able to stay away. The app allowed communication to students not yet on campus who would not have been able to hear an overhead PA announcement.

When asked how difficult it was for the school to get parents to download the app, Burke shared that the response has been great. The app has been shared amongst parents by a link on the school’s website. The percentage of parents downloading the app was much higher than expected with the number growing each day.

Burke said the concerns he had regarding parents who did not have access to the app via smart phones turned out to be unwarranted. The school is still offering other modes of information like newsletters and their website. He has found that the text message has been a far greater way of sharing information because emails are often ignored or put off until later in the day.

Williams agreed saying, “With emails, the open rate is about 25-30%, where a text message open rate is 97-99%, so quite a significant difference. And text messages, or should I say ‘push messages’ in this case, are immediate. An email could be opened a day later, while a text message has a high open rate and is typically opened within 5 minutes.”

Funding for a mobile app may be an issue for some schools. When asked how the app was funded at Burke’s school he shared that grants played a huge role in getting the funding. The original cost of the app came through two separate grants. One was through a Safety grant, which made it was easy to justify why we needed the money for the mobile app. So roughly half came from them. The second half came from a Colorado grant.

The Colorado grant was designed to increase the number of students going to college. A large problem for students was communication regarding college applications and scholarship and financial aid deadlines. Students were missing deadlines and thus not getting financial aid. With the app, Burke’s school was able to send push notifications reminding the students and their parents about deadlines. Having the parents aware and involved greatly increased their engagement.

The promotion of the app came from a technology class at the school. The class came out during a football game and promoted the app and helped parents download it. Burke shared that the app has an additional benefit as well: advertising.

The other big benefit of having our own app is vendors could advertise on it. So we basically went to all the advertisers that were advertising for athletics, advertisers of football games and stuff, and sold them this advertising media. We have a place on the app for supporters of PHS, and it’s been a money maker for us. We did the same thing with our yearbook and our newspaper advertisers. We simply contacted these local businesses and said next year we’re going to up the cost of your advertising and place you on our mobile app.

That has been a great opportunity for advertisers because the app is a highly effective marketing tool. The app is an interactive advertisement, opposed to a static advertisement in a brochure. Students and parents are able to click on a business and get directions, and current specials. Burke says that the advertisers like being featured on the app. The monthly funds from advertisers have allowed the school to buy a few things including a big screen TV placed outside the counseling office which has become yet another communication improvement.

When asked what he would share to other school administrators about the mobile app, Burke said he understands many schools are fighting tight budgets and he can commiserate with their concern. Part of the administrator’s job is stretching this small pool of money. I think the little investment will turn into huge payoff, as it has for us. We were the first in our district to do this, and every other school has immediately jumped on board seeing the benefit of it. I guess what I’m saying is you’re going to see it pay for itself even if you can’t find a grant to pay for it. A little investment will go a long way and it will pay for itself in no time flat.

He went on to share why he had decided to do the interview, stating that he understands counselors have tough jobs, and part of their role is to communicate with students and parents. Burke said he wanted to give them a tool that will “help every kid get to college, to get the kid the financial information they need, and to be successful in high school.”

He believes that the mobile app is one way that counselors can communicate with their students, and to be effective in helping the kids succeed. Counselors work hard in an effort to take kids further in life, and the app has helped him meet that goal. Williams ended the interview by asking, “So it sounds like for your school the mobile app has been a huge help for the counseling departments, for communication amongst the school and the students, communication between the school and parents, and overall an additional communication for any safety situations that may occur along the way, is that correct?” Burke emphatically agreed.

Mobile apps have the power to completely revolutionize the way schools and parents communicate, and ultimately educate their students and children. Communication can be direct and instant, providing reminders and delivering urgent messages. Schools do not have to pay for the app themselves. Cost to the school can be eliminated taking advantage of the community sponsorship initiative we have available to schools.

For more information on Media Authority Marketing and the school mobile app initiative, visit: or email

Palisades High School is a school of excellence in the state of  Colorado.  They are a school that embraces technology and strives to improve the success and experience for students that attend their school.  More information about Palisades High School can be found at

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