Pik My Kid: Local startup streamlines school dismissal process

It's a Tuesday afternoon at Dayspring Academy Secondary School in Port Richey, and the clock just struck 3:16 -- signaling the end of the school day. Over 200 middle and high school students take the cue and respond accordingly, breaking into their designated dismissal groups; car riders to the assembly room, bus riders outside, walkers in a separate area.

Then something interesting happens: The teachers and administrators whip out iPads to streamline the whole process. Parents virtually check into the car loop, alerting the staff of their arrival. From there, their child's name splashes across a projector screen in the assembly room along with the parent's position in the car line. The student then heads to a ready-to-go-home line, at which point another staff member "checks them out" with a swipe of a finger before directing them outside to their car.

A similar process plays out with walkers and bus riders, whose parents receive an alert once their child is "checked out" and on their way home. The entire procedure is hiccup-free, with each student digitally accounted for.

Welcome to a 21st-century school dismissal. In a day where we use mobile apps to buy airline tickets, do our grocery shopping, and even schedule our lawn-care maintenance, it isn't all that surprising that someone went and digitized the school dismissal process.

Enter PikMyKid, a Tampa-based startup that was born out of one parent's frustration with the school car line.
"I was spending 30 to 40 minutes every day at the car line," says Saravana "Pat" Bhava, the 44-year-old Westchase dad who created PikMyKid in 2014. "I also noticed that despite all the time, energy, and effort, the process still wasn't efficient. Teachers were relying on walkie-talkies, clipboards, and sticky notes. One day, the wrong child was put in my car, and that's when the idea really hit me."

Unfortunately, Bhava's experience isn't uncommon. Earlier this year, a Wesley Chapel mother was in tears after her first-grade daughter slipped past school staff members and went missing before a Good Samaritan took her in.

"Kids could potentially get lost, be put on the wrong bus, or walk off on their own," says Bhava. "When I looked into it, I couldn't find any product on the market to make school dismissals safer and more efficient."

The ex-Navy fighter pilot, who had no prior experience building apps, directed $80,000 of his own money to create the earliest version of PikMyKid. It wasn't long before USF CONNECT showed interest. Bhava went on to raise roughly $250,000 in seed funding and was recognized by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce as a 2016 Small Business of the Year finalist. What's more, the startup recently landed a $1 million investment from angel investing organizations FAN Fund and Florida Funders.

"It's something that's really revolutionized our dismissal process," says Suzanne Legg, CEO and cofounder of Dayspring Academy, which began using PikMyKid at two of its Pasco campus locations this school year.

Legg, who's also the mother of two elementary students, adds that it gives parents peace of mind. "I love being on the other end of the app. My schedule changed the other day, which meant that I had to arrange for a family friend to pick up my kids from school," she says. "This used to require making a phone call, at which point the school staff would have to make a note to make sure that child was dismissed correctly. The app eliminates that hassle."

Seeing exactly where kids need to go

PikMyKid allows parents to make in-app dismissal changes that are then automatically reflected in the system. This means that when staff members open the app at the end of the school day, they can see exactly which kids go where.

"We have 10 or 11 clubs, then there's rehearsals, band, dance, and tons of other after-school programs," says Tim Greener, assistant principal at Dayspring Academy Secondary School. "The app provides a way for us to know who's delegated to what; who's a bus rider, who's a last-minute walker, and who's staying for an after-school club."

Legg adds that prior to using the app, Dayspring would receive hundreds of phone calls each day from parents changing their child's dismissal status. The ease of use is also a big draw for parents, who automatically enter a geo-fence when they arrive at the school.

"There's an automatic digital handshake that takes place between the phone user and the school system, which is able to see a linear sequence of all the waiting cars," says Bhava. "That means that staff members inside the building can tell little Johnny that his mom is seventeenth in car line."

PikMyKid is currently available in 16 states and three countries, including a number of local schools in the Tampa Bay Area like Berkeley Preparatory School, Hillsborough Academy of Math and Science, and Woodmont Charter School. It costs schools between $3,000 and $5,000 to get it rolling, but is free for parents.

"The app was a little difficult to roll out at first," says Legg. "The first few days were a little crazy as we trained the staff, got the parents into the system, and so on, but the key is sticking with it. We eventually got the hang of it, and now it's something that really works for us.”
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Marianne Hayes is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.