Beyond the soup bean dinner
Kentucky School Advocate
By Vickie Mitchell
In eastern Kentucky, parents used to sit down with educators, share a meal of soup beans and cornbread, and get updates on their children’s school performance. Those folksy dinners have been replaced by a menu of technology-driven communication options, said Misty Ward, assistant principal at Johnson County’s Highland Elementary, and Dr. Karla McCarty, counselor at Johnson Central High School and adjunct professor at University of the Cumberlands.
The Johnson County educators discussed how districts like theirs are using technology to educate and communicate in their clinic at KSBA’s annual conference.
(From left) Garrard County school board Chairman Joe Brown
talks with presenters Misty Ward and Dr. Karla McCarty.
Facebook dominates among social media
Social media is a major vehicle for disseminating information, and Facebook is the most-popular form of social media used in Johnson County. The district has found that Facebook is a fast, effective way to promote school activities and relay news – particularly when snow falls.
“If you asked ‘How did you find out school was closed?’ they would say, ‘I saw it on Facebook.’ They wouldn’t say, ‘I heard it on TV or radio,’” Ward explained.
Facebook business pages, used with appropriate privacy settings, are also used by education-related organizations within the district. The PTO president at Highland Elementary, for example, has set up a Facebook page for parents. “It is there just to share information,” said Ward. “It is not set up to be a place for people to post or tag.”
School boards are another education entity that could benefit from having a Facebook page for their constituency, McCarty said. “One of the most important and positive things you can do is to be an advocate of your district. You can also have an online presence.”
Many creative applications
Ward and McCarty suggested other ways to use technology to expand learning and communicate with varied audiences.
To keep parents in the loop about the kind of technology their children use in the classroom, Highland Elementary holds parent meetings where they can get a taste of the computer programs, Ward said. “We have parent meetings we call Edmodo (a software program) nights, where the experts in technology are there to work with the parents, create a login for them and allow them to be in the groups so the parents don’t have the feeling that they don’t know what is going on,” she explained.
Survey tools such as Survey Monkey can be used, Ward and McCarty said, to poll parents on important issues. Students who once used pen, paper or email to connect with peers in other countries can use ePals, an electronic pen pal program. Skype can bring in impressive guest speakers. Johnson County has conducted Skype sessions with marine biologists in Florida and archeologists in England. “We can’t fly kids off to England, but we can give them a moment of what it is like to be there,” McCarty said.