Sauk Rapids company working to make teachers and students safer with Badge Messenger
SAUK RAPIDS — A Sauk Rapids company is launching a device it says will make schools safer and communication easier for teachers with just the push of a button.
Badge Messenger is a light-weight, non-intrusive messaging device teachers can wear on a lanyard and use to send alerts to the school office.
It was inspired by a local educator who wanted to make asking for help — from a maintenance or health issue to a safety or security incident — easy for teachers to do in a non-disruptive way.
"It came out of her frustrations with the idea of not being able to communicate as quickly as possible," said Henry Ewers, president and CEO of Badge Messenger.
From classroom to concept and back
Stephanie Pederson, a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Francis Xavier school in Sartell, said the idea initially started as a way to notify staff that a fire drill or lockdown was over. She told her husband, Greg, about an idea for adding an LED light to a teacher's ID badge.
With his engineering experience, Greg started tinkering with the concept and then brought up the idea to some of his friends and coworkers who created the company Badge Messenger.
Pederson's school has been part of Badge Messenger's pilot program, along with a school in West Virginia.
Brainstorming sessions on the product started in early 2018. But not long after she came up with the idea, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida happened, and they realized the badge could do so much more for teachers and students.
"It has a strong, emotional tie for me… kids deserve to be able to go to school and not have to worry," Pederson said. "The conversation started with a light on a badge and before we knew it, there were more things on this badge that could be lots of help in the classroom."
Pederson recalled a time she was by herself on the playground supervising more than two dozen students and one of them broke their arm.
"In that incident, luckily, they all followed right behind me," Pederson said. "I walked with the little one's arm in my arm… and they just followed behind me."
She's heard similar stories from other teachers: A student who had a seizure and the teacher had to send another grade-school student to the office for help. A student who got stung by a bee and had an allergic reaction and a nurse was needed immediately. A student who needed help getting to the bathroom before they had an accident, but the teacher had a classroom of kids to supervise.
If Pederson or any of those teachers who shared their stories had Badge Messenger, they could have pressed just one button for help.
"Teachers do their best, but they can only do so much in a classroom of 25-35 students… We've had several teachers tell us that they feel safer (with Badge Messenger)."
Most teachers are already wearing an ID badge of some sort, Pederson said, and teachers don't always have their phones on them and they can be hard to get to in an emergency. The device is always within reach, so it makes her feel like there is a second person in the classroom.
"If you can just have it handy, right there with you, it's not one more thing where you have to try to figure out where to put it," Pederson said. "For teachers, kids and schools, hopefully it's something that will make a difference."
How it works
A teacher wears the Badge Messenger device on a lanyard around their neck just like they would their school ID badge. Four buttons on the badge allow them to ask for help, medical or maintenance assistance, or alert administrators to a security issue in a non-disruptive way.
Each button can be programmed to send additional messages, like the type of health concern, if the maintenance request involves cleanup or classroom supplies, or the level of a security threat. The device is battery powered and delivers messages over a secure radio frequency, so compromised WiFi and cellular networks will not impact the device.
"This is very unobtrusive and they're already wearing it," Ewers said. "They don't have to go back to their desk and get on a landline or anything else to call. They can just push a button."
When a button gets pressed, a message is sent to a control hub called CAREL (communicate, alert, respond, evaluate and learn) that notifies administrators, and if necessary, tells a janitor that cleanup is needed or a nurse about a health concern.
The CAREL control center is a portable tablet that can be taken with users wherever it is needed during an emergency. And because Badge Messenger is a two-way communication device, school administrators can use the CAREL hub to send out school-wide alerts for lockdowns or fire alarms, as well as ask teachers to respond and let them know students are safe.
If a teacher indicates they are not safe during an incident, administrators know where to direct emergency responders.
Uses beyond the classroom
After taking Badge Messenger to school board conventions and receiving positive feedback, Ewers expects to start taking pre-orders for next fall.
"The teachers and administrators were saying 'where have you been?'" Ewers said. "We didn't do this just so we could sell this product. We wanted to make sure we take care of the students... the teachers and our communities."
Beyond its messaging capability, Badge Messenger can be used as a reporting tool. Assistance requests and incidents are tracked in the system, allowing administrators to review the staffing demands.
Schools would purchase the Badge Messenger system for a one-time fee without any reoccurring subscription charges or maintenance fees. The company said a school with 50 faculty and staff could expect to spend approximately $10,000.
Badge Messenger's focus is on the classroom right now, but the company sees uses for the product in a handful of businesses like power plants, hotels, shopping centers, nursing homes and hospitals. A nuclear plant has reached out to the company asking to be a test site.
"We're really looking at just a couple more months," Ewers said. "We have product being built right now and we're looking at 10,000 to start with."
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