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Social media sites gaining traction at area schools

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A student using Facebook in class is frowned upon and the site is blocked on computers at many local schools. But using social media sites to share up-to-the-minute information with community members of the school district is being encouraged.

The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services has launched Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and board members discussed how this could improve community relations in a free forum that already is widely used.

At BOCES’s monthly meeting last week Marcy Grenier, lead supervisor of professional and program development, and Derek LaLonde, technology integration specialist, presented to the board the advantages of using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Ms. Grenier said the three sites offer different advantages for the user. The Facebook page can connect with people in the community on a social level to post when school closings are anticipated, to share praises for student achievement or to allow people to share pictures. Twitter, an information network made up of 140-character messages called tweets, is good to use to “follow” educational organizations who might post informative articles relating to state education. LinkedIn, a social networking web site for people in professional occupations, can be used to make business and operational connections or even offer a medium to assist with future hiring and/or collaboration.

To get to the BOCES social media accounts, Mr. LaLonde said, people can go to the BOCES webpage, www.boces.com, and click on the icons at the bottom of the screen where visitors are taken instantly to the various sites.

BOCES established its Facebook account in September and has 66 “likes” to date. The most recent posts on the site included a photo of the Forestry and Environmental Conservation class from its November visit to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry Ranger School, posted to the Facebook account on Tuesday. The site has served to alert the campus about things such as construction in the BOCES parking lot and to post photos and videos.

For now, public comments on the Jefferson-Lewis Facebook page must be approved before they can be published because there isn’t someone monitoring the page full time. Ms. Grenier said she and Mr. LaLonde recieve notifications by email when a post is made on the site and then they review what was posted.

In Jefferson County, several school districts have Facebook pages, including Lyme and Immaculate Heart. There are other community pages created by people outside the district, as in Knickerbocker Elementary School. Several schools have community-run pages, such as Carthage High School,

St. Lawrence County schools with active Facebook accounts include St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES and Potsdam, Canton, Lisbon, Heuvelton, Colton-Pierrepont and Madrid-Waddington central schools.

Copenhagen appears to be the only Lewis County school with an official Facebook page, but others have pages or groups created by individuals to share information between students and alumni.

Copenhagen Central School District started an official Facebook page during the second semester of last year.

“It’s fantastic,” said Copenhagen Superintendent Scott N. Connell. “I was very leery at first, coming from the generation without social media, but it’s great.”

The page, administered by technology coordinator Darlene M. Rowsam and “liked” by 573 people, provides information on district events, offerings, closing or delays and other information pertinent to students, parents, staff and community members.

“It’s very effective,” Mr. Connell said.

Many postings link back to information on the district’s website, driving more web traffic there, the superintendent said. And, although the district uses the “school messenger” service to send telephone messages to parents in the event of closings or delays, many have said they first learn that information on Facebook, he said.

While initially concerned about inappropriate comments, Mr. Connell said there have only been a couple of questionable ones, and Mrs. Rowsam quickly removed them.

Mr. Connell said he also uses Facebook to screen potential employees and even fired one district worker after the person made a couple of derogatory posts within a year, the second after being warned against it, during the school day.

The Copenhagen superintendent said he doesn’t have a personal Facebook account, but does use Twitter, partly as a way to access information from the state Education Department and other school-related organizations more quickly than through email. He also uses text messaging to communicate with coaches and find out how teams fared.

Peter J. Turner, Carthage Central School superintendent, said the district doesn’t have a page, but the idea has been brought up at various board meetings. There is a page titled “Carthage High,” which Mr. Turner said has no affiliation with school administrators.

“It is not a district page. I have no idea who set it up,” Mr. Turner said.

When the school needs to alert parents or community members of something, they are called through an automated message system, he said.

Mr. Turner said he doesn’t have a Facebook account and refuses to get one.

A page under the name of Case Middle School was created by a former student, Aisha Rapant. Now a 10th grader at Watertown High School, Ms. Rapant still maintains the page, even though Facebook is blocked on all school computers. She uses the page to post encouraging messages about school breaks and occasionally shares articles about education she finds interesting.

She sometimes has to remove offensive posts by other students who she said talk badly about other students and staff at the school.

“People post how they hate this school, and how the teachers are horrible, when these teachers work so hard, and are so nice,” she said. “I take it off immediately.”

Ms. Rapant said she thinks her age group and kids between ages 13 and 17 use social media a lot to connect and learn information about their community.

“It would be nice to have Watertown High School have their own page to post upcoming events and past events,” Ms. Rapant said. “It would allow access for parents and such to see what their kids and staff are involved in at their school.”

Mr. LaLonde said they are still in the early stages of establishing the sites but hopes more people “like,” “tweet” and “make connection” with them.

Johnson Newspapers staff writer Steve Virkler contributed to this report.

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