Virtual PLUS+ Helpline Will Remain Open Through January 2021
After Assisting 12,500 Callers, Our Successful Virtual PLUS+ Helpline Will Now Remain Open Through January 2021
When the Virtual PLUS+ Helpline began in August 2020 to help our families transition into an unconventional school year, it was expected to be a short term endeavour, over in a matter of weeks.
But more than 12,500 calls later and the value of having a friendly and knowledgeable voice on the end of a line has become so apparent that the multilingual service will now continue to operate through January 2021.
And in December 2020, the Alexandria PTA Council will be designating a portion of the money raised by their Giving Tuesday fundraiser to help support this vital work which provides real time answers to questions about Virtual PLUS+ and the 2020-21 academic year.
“Staying on top of the many changes to the school year due to COVID-19 is a heavy lift for families, especially when English is not your first language,” said Taneika L. Taylor Tukan, ACPS community outreach manager.
“Just being able to connect to and actually speak with a staff member who can patiently walk you through how to create a PowerSchool account or log back into Clever after the device has powered off for example, has been of great benefit to our families.
“The work this team does has been appreciated and we are delighted we can continue the service through the end of January next year.”
Rotating teams of ten staff members working virtually Monday to Friday take calls from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. on anything from filling out applications for Free and Reduced Meals to helping understanding changes to a student’s schedule.
While 70% of callers do not count English as their first language, the service is available to all families who have questions about any aspect of Virtual PLUS+ in four languages.
Spanish accounts for 44% of those calls, English 30%, Amharic 14% and Arabic 13%.
For those who speak another of ACPS’s 121 languages and when one of our specific language help line members is not available, an interpreter is patched in from the Language Line service. More than half of the staff manning the lines are bilingual; all are able to use Language Line to communicate with any parent.
The most common questions remain around technology and nutrition access but whenever changes are announced, the ten staff working each day see an uptick in calls.
In September, the team was averaging more than 350 calls a day and while those numbers have decreased through October, as our reentry plans come into effect those calls are expected to pick up again.
To prepare for the day ahead, each morning Ms. Tukan sends a “need to know” email to the team to keep them up to date with all ACPS updates that they may be asked questions about.
If they don’t have the answers, they reach out to someone in our division who does.
The call center staff, manning the lines each day from their homes, are existing ACPS employees who have shown the willingness and flexibility to switch from a different role for a few months while our buildings remain closed. The current roster of 16 include administrative assistants, school registrars, parent liaisons and several Central Office employees.
This month, twenty new recruits will be trained and ready to take over as the original crew return to their regular positions.
“We are really thankful to those staff who have temporarily transitioned from another department to join the Helpline, said Miss Tukan. “Their dedication to helping our families and students has been wonderful to see,” she added.
The Virtual PLUS+ Helpline is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- For Spanish: Call or text 703-844-3424
- For Arabic: Call or text 703-927-7095
- For Amharic: Call or text 703-927-6866
- For English and all other languages: Call or text 703-844-1763