St. Regis schools address changing social media risks

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St. Regis High principal Shaun Ball, watches a video on social media issues. (Chuck Bandel/Mineral Independent)

Nerd gods knowingly selling an addictive product. Two billion social media users worldwide being “programmed” by tech companies and they don’t even realize it.

A new form of “social” segregation.

Those and many more soberingly chilling messages were part of a video viewed recently by staff and administration at St. Regis schools.

In response the schools are hoping to educate students, staff and parents in the potential dangers of social media abuse.

St. Regis Schools Superintendent Joe Steele and his staff have embarked on developing and implementing a plan to help head off future social media-related problems.

“It is a problem but schools usually don’t get involved,” Steele said. “It’s not a big problem here in St. Regis at this time and we want to keep it that way.”

Steele said increasing use of iPhones and other high tech gadgetry has created a social esteem problem, particularly among young girls who use the media for many not-so-good purposes, such as complaining about a host of issues, including classes and even engaging in bullying fellow students.

“I would emphasize there are many really good uses for social media,” Steele said.

“It can be very useful for academic purposes. Sometimes teachers ask students to look up information as part of their learning experience.

But in many cases we are encountering a lot more anxiety among some students who use social media to say things they wouldn’t say face-to-face to another person.”

Misuse of social media in such ways, Steel said, can create a host of problems.

“When you communicate with someone via Facebook or other forms of social media, you don’t see their facial expressions or body language,” he said. “ This can create a situation where you say many things you otherwise wouldn’t have said.”

He noted that studies of school shooters show most have been fixated with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

During class time, unless otherwise directed by the teacher, use of cell phones is not allowed in St. Regis classrooms, according to Steele.

Steele said St. Regis schools’ goal is to provide information about the risks of social media overuse to students and parents during planned meetings and to urge parents to get involved in the issue.

“We are saying that moderation is the key and talking about situations that have appeared and may arise,” he said. “It’s also a matter of appropriate behavior. You don’t have to look at your cell phone every five minutes. It’s not just a buzzing of your phone thing, it can become a mental issue as well.”

School counselors are also becoming involved in providing information to students and parents about social media matters. They emphasize there is a distinction between screen time for productive learning and purely social esteem issues.

The schools have begun including such information in its newsletter and through video information and other forms of communication passed on to parents and students.

St. Regis Principal Sean Ball agreed the problem is not widespread at St. Regis, saying it is presently limited to a small number of mostly junior high age students.

“We are trying to be productive and proactive and not let social media use get out of hand,” Ball said. “The staff here has done an excellent job working with this issue. Mostly it’s a matter of trying to change habits and educate people about potential abuse problems.”

A majority of parents and students are receptive to the potential misuse problems, Ball said.

“We have kids coming into the school district from all over,” Ball said. “Most of them love St. Regis and love that we care about this issue.”

More common concerns, he said, can be protecting students from possible home life issues, feeding and clothing them.

All involved admit it’s a daunting task but all are committed to doing what they can to control the issue. That includes monitoring cell phone use in classrooms.

“We can’t monitor every student every minute,” Ball said. “Some of them can be very quick at taking a quick look at their device as soon as the teacher walks by.”

Overall, student compliance with social media regulations is very good, he added.

School counselor Tyler Cheesman said parental involvement is essential.

“There are some parents who are not as involved as we would like,” she said.

“There have been a couple times where it has been a problem talking with students and correcting the problem. Usually these things get resolved by talking face-to-face. We want parents to be involved.”

In one part of the video watched by teachers and administration, the speaker says a solution can be simple.

“Get off Facebook and put your face in a book.”

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