In November of 2009, Pottsgrove High School located in Pottstown, PA, experienced the tragic deaths of two students in an automobile accident. The social and emotional impact of these sudden deaths, and the subsequent conversations with students, led the administration to seek novel ways to offer support to students and their friends who are experiencing barriers to learning, such as drug, alcohol or mental health issues.
The High School principal had seen a video showcasing a preventative tool employed by stadiums, which encouraged fans to text in to a central command for assistance with crowd control or unruly behavior. In light of recent events, he began to think of its application in education and in specifically addressing the needs of our school. The company (http://www.guestassist.net/) delivers mobile phone-based communications that allow an enterprise, such as a school, to interact with their students.
While cell phones use in class is against their school policy, a “technology zone” was established in the cafeteria where students are permitted to use their phones during lunch. With the implementation of this system, a cutting-edge technology commonly utilized on college campuses, students have communicated via text to the operators (school administration and a few select teachers) about bullying, various concerns about their friends, and knowledge of drug use. Signs and video news bulletins have been circulating through this particular high school with the following message:
CONCERNED? Text “Falcons” and your concern to 78247
Students are encouraged to text message concerns relating to bullying, possible drug and alcohol abuse, self-injury, and other topics that may hinder student learning. All text messages are filtered into a website that is consistently monitored by trained teachers and administrators. Students receive a message in return thanking them for their concern, asking for more specific details, or in cases deemed urgent, asked to report to an administrator or counselor for support. Incoming information is then passed on to school personnel who can best provide assistance to the student.
In the first month of operation, the Falcon Assist has provided supports to at least a dozen students. It’s great to see that students care and have concern for their peers!
The school is now asking for our parents to help provide support to their students by utilizing the text messaging service. “If you feel your son/daughter or their friends are in need of assistance, then please text “Falcons” and your concern to 78247.”
The system is simple yet powerful, as it allows for anonymous communication, has a web-based control system for easy access and the ability to tag conversations for future reports based on type of concern or issue.
I’m looking forward to my interview this Thursday with Chris Schaffer, the principal of Pottsgrove High School, who is the genius behind the system’s implementation.