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Connecting Parents to Schools Via Social Media

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Using social media to connect families with schools is gaining momentum, and nowhere is that more evident than at Knapp Elementary, a 600-student Lansdale, Pa., school that has become a leader in this trend.

"What makes it unique and special is the use of technology and the openness ... We have a say in how things are done. At least they listen to us, and not every school has that," Gwen Pescatore, the school's Home and School president, told an EduConn 2.5 gathering earlier this year. "It allows us to be more connected, and have more respect for the staff and teachers."

Joe Mazza, the Knapp principal who spearheaded the connection, said in a recent Education Week webinar that his goal is "to meet the parents where they are."

"According to the latest Pew Internet Research, we have 80 percent of families utilizing mobile phones to access the internet, school communications, Facebook, personal work information, so the opportunity for us to use these tools has never been greater than it is now," said Mazza, who also calls himself Knapp Elementary's "Lead Learner." In fact, Knapp has its own mobile app.

To gauge how best to connect with parents, Knapp used technology surveys that took two minutes to fill out, providing hard copies at back-to-school night. At Knapp, the idea is to give multiple ways to interact with the school, including the age-old, time-tested face-to-face approach.

In the virtual world, Knapp uses its eFACE blog to tackle questions like, "How do we get more family participation at monthly Home and School/PTA/PTO meetings?" eFACE stands for Electronic Family and Community Engagement.

School newsletters are written on Google docs. "We're constantly in a state of sharing. Social media tools give us that opportunity to work with families," he said in the webinar.

Mazza is also the originator of #PTchats, which are Parent-Teacher Chats—topical discussions using twitter on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST. The goal with these moderated discussions is to provide transparent and collaborative dialogue between parents and educators. Recent topics include "Understanding the world's #1 educational system," a "tweet-versation" with educators from Finland, and "Edu-Jargon for Parents: A Glossary."

Mazza's advice to parent-school communities is to "start slow."

To learn more about his ideas and suggestions, visit the archived webinar entitled, "Connecting Parents and Schools Via Social Media Initiatives."

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