Minga CEO speaks on implementation at Westhill

By: Eugene Caibal

Upon students’ return from Christmas break, Westhill High School rang in the new year by launching a piece of hallway management software that would disrupt an already weary school community.

Minga is a “one-stop shop” for schools looking to not only manage hallway traffic, but also increase student and classroom engagement on campus, said founder and CEO Jason Richards in a recent interview with The Westword.

While Minga has been used at Stamford High since September 2023, the app’s introduction to Westhill came at a tumultuous time, when Stamford Public Schools Superintendent Lucero had recently proposed adding an additional class to teachers’ schedules, sparking protests across all three high schools across the district. The app roll out went almost unnoticed until it was not.

This was the climate Minga was greeted with at its launch, and almost immediately, the app was greeted with mixed reactions.

Students and staff have conceded that the original hall pass system was outdated: passes would often be reused and every teacher had their own method of creating passes, enabling repeat offenders to roam as they pleased (Room 9, the woodshop corridor, for instance, utilized scrap wood for their bathroom passes).

However, since Minga’s introduction to Westhill in January, student reactions have been overwhelmingly negative. In a survey by The Westword nearly a month after the app’s launch, nearly half of all 135 respondents rated the app 1 out of 10.

Most of the complaints fall on Westhill administration more than the app itself: more than 75% of respondents believed the 7-minute time limit allotted for bathroom passes is too short, since this conflicts with Westhill’s  locked bathroom policy during passing periods, making the search for open bathrooms a lengthy ordeal. 

Richards acknowledges that “in a lot of our introductions to schools, we’re frequently an initially hated platform by students because it feels like Big Brother. It feels like we’re taking away the freedom and trust and respect between administration, staff, and students.”

But the Minga CEO insists that the app gets better over time, citing case studies conducted by the company in schools such as neighboring Danbury and Stamford High, both of which report positive administrative experiences regarding the app’s implementation. 

While most students at Westhill preferred the original system due to its simplicity, Richards notes that this development is “a necessary path” that will change schooling at Westhill for the better.

Before Minga’s adoption, the burden of drawing up passes and deciding who gets to leave their classroom was ultimately left to the teacher. Richards characterizes this traditional method of pass delegation as reactive: “You don’t know how frequently someone’s going to the bathroom. You don’t know [in advance] if they’re going to meet up with their friend to vape.”

According to Richards, “Going to a digital hallway management system simply migrates [the process] from a reactive to a proactive situation” by providing administrators with data such as time spent outside of class or how many students are currently roaming.

With the advent of this data, Westhill administrators can now set rules that inhibit repeat offenders from leaving the classroom to meet up with friends “rather than reactively managing to those problems when they’re happening,” Richards said.

“They’re a teacher, not a pass writer. And it’s not just writing the pass: they have to face the decision of whether [they should] give the pass or not,” Richards said. If teachers and administrators are given qualitative data beforehand, Richards believes, the decision to let a student leave can become less about belief and more about fact. 

The full potential of the app has yet to fully be achieved. According to Alvin Frager, head of security,  only 80% of teachers are on board with using Minga in their classrooms. Full utilization must be met before the experience will be smooth, as inconsistency in hall pass distribution still poses a risk for security personnel who will have to manage two polar opposite systems.

Though it has gained a reputation among Vikings as the hall pass app, “the vision when we started Minga was really to help tackle the problem of ‘how do you create a space where students would get more enjoyment out of the [school] experience?’,” Richards said. 

Minga was founded as Richards’ children were still in middle and high school, where he noticed their struggles to find extracurricular activities that they would enjoy. 

“They went to school, they went to class, and they would miss out on something that they thought would have been really neat, but they never knew about it,” Richards said.

This experience underpins Minga’s philosophy today: Richard says the app’s goal is to “create a space where students [can] get more enjoyment out of the [school] experience.” It is not just about managing passes, but managing school-events to help kids like his own find a place in their school community. 

Richards says that increasing school involvement through extracurriculars helps contribute to a better and safer campus, which Minga accomplishes by allowing student club leaders as well as their advisors to post in the school’s home page.

“You build a stronger sense of community, and when you feel a stronger sense of community, you do less dumb stuff,” Richards said. “You do less negative things that negatively impact the community [..] and it creates a better space.”

For now, it is the teacher’s decision as to whether they want to adopt Minga in their classroom, a method Richards does not recommend. 

“A cold turkey, super fast rollout is best,” Richards said. “If one teacher uses it and your next one doesn’t, that’s usually pretty challenging for everyone.”

However, according to Richards, Minga’s current status as “the hall pass app”  at Westhill is only the tip of the iceberg.

“There’s only so many new things that the school can do at one time, so it takes time to roll out and start to leverage it all,” Richards said.

There are many modules utilized by neighboring schools not yet seen at Westhill’s campus. For example, Danbury High currently utilizes a points and rewards system that incentivizes students to stay on the right track, while at Stamford High, physical student IDs are now obsolete due to the digital IDs Minga provides.

The evolution from a paper to a digital hall pass system, in a 21st-century Westhill, was guaranteed. Stamford High adopted Minga four months ago, and even this was an evolution more than 1000 schools nationwide have undergone with the app.

The story of Minga and Westhill High School is happening in schools across the nation: technological advancement in education meets school communities hesitant to change, all in the interest of real-world, data-driven student-management.