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Social media connections: Schools use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to keep students engaged

Michael Smith
msmith@ardmoreite.com
Healdton High School information sign congratulates the class of 2020 on Monday. As distance learning continues, area schools are keeping students engaged with social media.

Classrooms and school buildings offer plenty of opportunities to highlight the accomplishments of students. Morning announcements congratulate student performances, bulletin boards announce upcoming school events and hallways are full of conversation that make up the school experience.

Instead, area students are wrapping up their first month of distance education while practicing social distancing. Curriculum poses obvious challenges for teachers and students, but engagement also remains a challenge.

As schools continue to forge ahead without any rule books, some are turning to social media to highlight creative ways of overcoming the challenges. Healdton High School Principal Justin Kana also runs the school system’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/healdtonschools, and said he has been impressed with the Bulldogs’ engagement.

“It’s not all about your core subjects. Going out and building something, working around the house, doing home repairs... those are all things that incorporate what they learn in school for the real world. For me, that’s as good as anything they do out of a textbook,” Kana said.

Last week, pictures posted to the social media site showed Healdton students working from books and computers. Other pictures show students standing over kitchen sinks, next to trailers or with freshly painted bird houses. Others still showed students working out or creating art.

“I get pictures daily from parents and kids showing what they’re doing around the house,” said Kana. “I’ll post pictures of them working at home, doing various activities around the house, doing their homework, just to highlight those kids who are still giving it a go,” he said.

At Plainview High School, students were already familiar with digital creations on social media. Christy Parham teaches multimedia and said students normally publish student-created content to their Twitter account, https://www.twitter.com/ViewPlainview.

Senior profiles, sporting event reminders, and even a weekly school news program fill much of the Twitter profile. Parham said that the closure of schools does not necessarily mean that the social media profiles will go dark during distance education.

“We still have some things that we filmed before spring break that students produced, and I posted the last of that today,” Parham said on Monday.

Even though Parham has taken over the role of posting to social media accounts, she said students are still creating. During the first week of distance education, a virtual spirit week was launched and challenged students to share pictures.

Parham said she received photos of students with their favorite social distancing buddy — usually a sibling, parent, or even pet—the most missed school activity, or even their favorite social distancing activity.

“That’s probably the most activity I’ve had was that virtual spirit week because kids would take their own pictures and send it in,” she said.

End of the year events like concerts and award banquets are either postponed or canceled, but social media is proving to be a platform where students missing out on these events can still be recognized. Parham said many of the Plainview athletes will be highlighted on social media in coming weeks.

Extra-curricular activities at Healdton will also be highlighted as the end of the school year approaches. “We have an athletic banquet in the spring and we do have band concerts, and we’ll try to do some shoutouts to those different groups the closer we get to those times,” Kana said.

For both schools, highlighting the class of 2020 on social media is also a priority considering many of the traditions shared by high school seniors are in jeopardy. Beginning this week, Plainview will highlight seniors on social media each day. The Healdton schools’ Facebook page has already highlighted many seniors.

Not all hope is lost that seniors will miss some of the traditions they have waited on for years. Kana said some events, including graduation ceremonies, are not being counted out just yet since many have been scheduled for the final two weeks of May.

“We are backed not quite up against the wall yet, so we have a little bit of time,” he said.