Memphis startup integrates tech into the classroom to prevent student dropouts

Between crowded classrooms and daunting workloads, teachers must squeeze in time to create student and class reports. The data gathered from these reports can direct everything from educational programming to school funding.

Typically, each school will have several different systems containing student data. With hundreds of students assigned to one teacher, it is easy for even the most attentive teachers to miss subtle signs of slipping student progress.

Memphians Allison Sheppard Nokes and Borhan Samei want to help educators not only organize and streamline student data but also help schools pick up on the early warning signs of a student in trouble. Their online school dashboard SILQ-EDU places all student data into one place for educators to access a clear picture of student progress. Data stored on the dashboard includes everything from test scores and attendance to social and cultural data such as extracurricular activities, behavior marks and notes from adult mentors and tutors.

SILQ also includes assistive technology that “unleashes the power of historical student data,” said Samei, SILQ CTO and co-founder.

He explained that as the program captures more individual student data it has the ability to reveal unseen connections. The dashboard can alert teachers to subtle changes in student progress, giving educators a chance to intervene early before a student falls behind in class or drops out.

“Spiderweb silk is one of the stronger fibers that exist in nature. We believe data is one way to illustrate the strong connections between everyone. Just as silk connects spider webs, almost invisible data connects people,” said Sheppard Nokes, SILQ CEO and co-founder.

“SILQ-EDU wants to make those data connections more visible so that leaders can be more connected.”

Each student profile on SILQ has a place for educators to add comments and notes, helping educators stay connected. If a student has missed one day of school and a mentor perhaps left a comment about a change in that student’s living situation, the program can alert the educator to this. The educator now has the informed data to intervene in a positive way before one missed day becomes several.

Sheppard Nokes has a master’s degree in Integrating Technology in the Classroom from Walden University and 15 years of experience as a teacher and school director of technology. She said that as a teacher, she had spent countless hours searching for an all-in-one program to store student data. Having everything at the tip of your finger allows the educator to spend more time in the classroom doing what they do best.

Sheppard Nokes and Samei want to see SILQ-EDU help schools lower their drop out rates with the help of the program’s assistive technology. As the program gains more historical data on each student and opens the channel of communication between a child’s educators and mentors, the better the program gets at noting the most subtle signs of a slipping student, such as changes in classroom behavior to a slight dip in a weekly pop quiz.

Allison Sheppard Nokes, SILQ CEO, and Borhan Samei, SILQ CTO, outside their office at Cowork Memphis.

In the 2016 to 2017 school year, approximately 20 percent of Shelby County School students will drop out. In her research, Sheppard Nokes said that she found that high school dropouts are statistically more likely to be incarcerated and earn much less than those who earned their diploma.

The hope is that SILQ-EDU, with its ability to analyze almost invisible data connections, can pinpoint a crisis or change in a student’s life before dropping out is the solution, helping the student reach their potential in life.

The Memphis Grizzlies Foundation is SILQ’s first customer and they are currently running a pilot version of SILQ-EDU at the Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School. While it is too soon to see large results from SILQ at Grizz Prep, Diane Terrell, vice president of community engagement and executive director of the Grizzlies Foundation, reported that one of the most substantial changes SILQ-EDU has brought to Grizz Prep is bringing together a child’s extended community.

“SILQ gives educators and mentors in a child’s life the ability to mobilize at a moment’s notice to help inspire a different result in a child’s life,” Terrell said, adding SILQ is also helping the Grizzlies Foundation and Grizz Prep gather substantial evidence that adult mentors and volunteers “make a measurable difference in a child’s life.”

Related: "Getting connected: Grizz Prep blends education with in-school mentorship"

Samei noted that SILQ-EDU gives educational leaders such as the Grizzlies Foundation, which incorporates five different mentorship and educational programs into the Grizz Prep curriculum, a quick snapshot of a program’s success. If a program is doing well, SILQ can quickly develop an analysis of the program that leaders can use to replicate in another program or in the larger community.

Sheppard Nokes and Samei were connected to each other in 2017 after they both separately went through the 48-hour startup launch bootcamp at Start Co.

Samei, a computer science Ph.D. candidate at the University of Memphis, had already created the assistive technology that would become the core of SILQ-EDU. He just didn’t know then what field the program would be best utilized in. 

He laughed that he didn’t want it to just be used for predictive adverts on social media that might “suggest buying shampoo when you are at the store.”

Sheppard Nokes was going through the accelerator to pitch her school photography business. They both were looking to improve the intersection of tech and education, so they came together to form SILQ Inc.

For the future of the Grizz Prep SILQ-EDU program, the Grizzlies Foundation and SILQ Inc. are working to more completely capture mentor data.

Additionally, Sheppard Nokes and Samei are gearing up to develop another aspect of the assistive technology included in SILQ-EDU — an educator alert that includes a suggestive action. Samei said the suggestion action will be based on the history of the student, and the program will prompt the educator with an action that has worked to reestablish positive student progress in the past. So, if going on a walk worked in the past to quell a student’s classroom interruptions, SILQ-EDU will prompt the educator to this or even suggestion for other similarly behaved students.

Sheppard and Samei hope to create the mobile version of SILQ-EDU soon. The team is fundraising to raise capital to hire help to assist in putting the final touches on the SILQ-EDU program. The startup is also currently looking to take on new clients, specifically schools and nonprofit organizations with a focus on education.

“Most startups want to make the world a better place, but we believe education betters the world. SILQ-EDU props up educational leaders and makes their jobs easier so they can focus on their students in the classroom and continue making the world a better place,” Samei said.

Read more articles by Rachel Warren.

Rachel Warren is a freelance writer whose writing has appeared in RSVP Magazine and Focus Magazine in Memphis. She is a sales associate at the Peddler Bike Shop. Rachel likes riding bikes, playing roller derby, watching scary movies and writing about Memphis. 
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