School Tries New Twist on Tweets

Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA)

January 14, 2014

Emily Morrissey's jeweled cellphone sparkled as she tweeted in Spanish to her classmates recently.

The Shullsburg, WI, High School junior is encouraged to use the hashtag #minerspanish during class to practice Spanish in 140 characters or less.

"We're not afraid of messing up as much," Morrissey said.

Spanish teacher Emily Fritz decided to leverage Twitter this school year to create an authentic learning environment. On the social media site, users can enter posts of up to 140 characters, using hashtags to make similar content more easy to locate.

Not only do Shullsburg students talk to each other in Spanish via Twitter about things like daily routines, but students living in Spain and other areas also interact with the Shullsburg students in real time using the hashtag.

"It's a better way to learn the language. It makes us want to try to learn more," said Sam Uehling, a junior.

Use of social media has spread through Shullsburg School District, with the principal and student social media interns leading the charge.

District Principal Melissa Emler knows the importance of using social media to highlight district stories. However, she felt like she needed help. Aware of the risks, Emler created a social media intern program at the high school and handed over the district's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to three students.

"If we don't tell our story, someone else will, and it may not be the story we want shared," Emler said.

The program started in February when Emler received permission to start a district Facebook page. She guides the interns through private messages.

This year, the social media interns are Morrissey, Uehling and McKailah Strang, a freshman. Their goal is to engage the community through the sites, with the hope of enhancing the school's image and climate.

The interns also encourage others to use #shullsburgpride to promote the district's brand.

Uehling stumbled into becoming an unofficial social media intern when he created a slightly negative Twitter account titled Shullsburg Pride.

"I was sort of making fun of it. Doing jokes," Uehling said.

Emler monitored the site and was impressed by the student's wit. The principal decided to reach out to the anonymous student in September after she read the tweet, "I smell a comeback?or nachos?either way it's good.?

Emler asked Uehling if he would be willing to use his wittiness to help promote a positive image of the district. He agreed.

"It'd be better for the school," Uehling said.

Morrissey and Strang, who were asked to be interns, receive service-learning credit for their participation. They analyze data to help increase engagement, monitor comments, tailor posts for different audiences, learn about best practices in social media and incorporate pictures and videos from the elementary, middle and high schools.

"It's scary because I know it's important to do a positive tweet or something good to help our school. It's a big responsibility," Uehling said.

The Shullsburg social media sites still are in their infancy. The Facebook page has just less than 700 likes, the Twitter account has almost 105 followers and the Instagram page has 59 followers. The three social media interns said they continue to try to increase student participation on the sites.

Emler said Shullsburg is on the forefront of the relatively new concept in education of branding a school or district. Her goal is for the group to become the experts for others.

"Every school can benefit from telling their story," Emler said.

Morrissey added, "We're setting an example for other schools."

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