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2017-08-02 / News

B2S: Social media fosters community-school engagement

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER

To tweet or not to tweet? For Chesterfield County Public Schools, that isn’t a question.

With 40,000 followers on Facebook and 16,000 followers on Twitter, the school system has a robust social media presence. Over the past decade, as smart phones and social media became the preferred method of communication for students and many parents, the school system aggressively amped up its strategy.

On top of the division-wide accounts, individual schools operate their own social media accounts to keep parents and students abreast of what’s happening in the classroom and to increase engagement between schools and the extended school community.

A typical example is Tomahawk Creek Middle, which has active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

“We do a variety of different things, because my philosophy is that you can’t just do one thing and expect people to be informed,” says David Ellena, principal at Tomahawk Creek. “Parents can follow whichever one is best suited to their needs.”

In addition to housekeeping posts like dates for cheerleading tryouts and early-dismissal day reminders, Ellena uses social media to highlight some of the student projects taking place in his classrooms.

“Anytime we see something that is in a classroom that’s really cool, we’ll snap a picture and put that up,” Ellena says. “It really helps with that age-old question of ‘What did you do today?’”

A handful of times a year, Ellena selects students to take over the school’s Twitter account and post what they’re learning in the classroom. “It’s telling the story from another point of view,” Ellena says. “The kids really seem to enjoy it.”

Ellena also uses the text message system Remind to keep parents informed. If an emergency situation occurs, like a fire alarm going off unexpectedly, Ellena can use the app to send a mass text to parents. Last school year, he had 900 parents signed up for his text message alerts.

Ellena says that while social media brings up negative connotations for some, keeping parents informed about their children is one of its many positive uses.

“We really try to focus on the positive things,” Ellena says. “It’s just informing parents about what’s going on in the school.”

James Lane, CCPS superintendent, says he’s encouraged principals to tell their schools’ stories. To allow easier access to posts about the school system, the division began using the hashtag “#oneccps.”

“We really wanted that to speak to the fact that we’re all one Chesterfield, we’re all working together for the same goals, but we each have our own school’s story to tell,” Lane said. “When I click on #oneccps every day, and I look at them often, I get an amazing field trip into every single one of our schools.”

Lane stresses that social media allows the school division to tell stories in more depth than would be possible through other means of communication.

“I feel so much more engaged and so much more connected to our schools because we’re all telling each other’s story and sharing what’s going on,” Lane says. “Social media gives you an eye into all of the amazing things that we’re doing every day.” ¦

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