Mesquite ISD met with other administrators across Texas on Thursday to introduce and discuss its new program, AYO.

AYO started with a partnership between Mesquite ISD, Google and SoftServe and is a platform where students enter information through tests and surveys to identify possible avenues where they might excel rather than utilizing a system of standardization that ranks students.

The program collects data regarding students’ aptitude and areas of passion where students, parents and teachers can collaborate and tailor the student’s learning to fit those passions.

AYO offers three separate portals for parents, students and teachers. Each side sees different information about the student and can update information they have entered as needed.

One of Mesquite ISD’s areas of focus in developing Ayo is parent involvement.

"We've always provided very generalized assets to parents, but now we can focus on what we know about their child based on their interests, their inputs and the parent's input,” Superintendent David Vroonland said. “The parent can also provide updates to the AYO tool just like the teacher. All those inputs together give us great insight to the child. Our focus right now is building community."

Future development of this project may be funded by ESSER funds – sub grants awarded to local school districts to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. However, up until now, AYO funding has come from other sources.

“We have set aside roughly around $2 million to $3 million,” Vroonland said. “The question we've had discussions on whether or not we could you use those dollars for technological infrastructure as we build this. I think that depends on how you set your rationale for how you use this technology. ESSER allows for the use for money on technological improvements. We're doing that, but we already invested in this.”

AYO drew interest from seven other school districts including Plano, Wichita Falls, Crandall and others. Members of the Texas Education Agency also showed interest in adopting the program.

Because AYO depends on data collection and using artificial intelligence to suggest possible career paths for students, one of the concerns from parents and teachers was data security and who will have access to students’ data.

Alona Golopuz, solutions consultant for SoftServe, reassured the data is encrypted when stored and transferred. While the data is stored in the Google Cloud, only AYO has access to student data.

“Parents have to agree to be part of AYO,” Deputy Superintendent Ángel Rivera said. “The parents have to give consent.”

AYO is projected to fully roll out by fall of 2022. As districts gain experience with AYO, they will have an opportunity to customize the program to fit their schools better.

"I can't wait to see what happens when this gets rolled out,” Vroonland said. “I can't wait to see how it impacts my students, and their sense of place, their sense of direction, their sense of belonging will be dramatically impacted.”

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