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As social media’s influence grows, teachers, administrators search for a response

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 24, 2018, 10:38 p.m.

Jeremy Ochse, principal of Sacajawea Middle School, holds a copy of a book used by the school to educate children about social media. (Jim  Allen / The Spokesman-Review)
Jeremy Ochse, principal of Sacajawea Middle School, holds a copy of a book used by the school to educate children about social media. (Jim Allen / The Spokesman-Review)

For educators in Spokane, the perils of social media are everywhere.

At North Central High School, it lurks in the hallways, where the occasional fistfight doesn’t get broken up but is recorded by students and posted to friends.

In the aftermath of one fight, principal Steve Fisk said he “looked up and saw four students with cellphones, taking videos.”

“It’s become an automatic response,” Fisk told the Spokane Public Schools board of directors during a special meeting Wednesday night.

The revelations from Fisk and other principals were disturbing but not surprising in a time when more than half of U.S. school principals say they’re extremely concerned about children’s use of social media.

A recent poll conducted by Education Week found that just 14 percent describe themselves as “very prepared” to help students use social media responsibly.

“I think our expectations of principals have become increasingly unreasonable,” said Amanda Lenhart, the deputy director of the Better Life Lab at New America, a Washington think tank.

“They’re fighting a losing battle,” Lenhart said.

The loss, according to Sacajawea Middle School principal Jeremy Ochse, comes in the form of hundreds of hours spent dealing with abuse of cellphones and social media.

“It was all we were doing,” Ochse said. “Our goal is to get instruction minutes back.”

The challenges run the gamut, from cellphone addiction to cyberbullying.

A study released in September by the Pew Research Center found that 59 percent of American teens have faced at least one type of online abuse. They include name-calling, false rumors, online stalking and physical threats, and there’s no reason to believe that the numbers are much different in Spokane.

However, local educators are trying. Fisk, Ochse and Lewis and Clark High School principal Marybeth Smith outlined the challenges and their responses.

The session was informational – no action was taken – but Adam Swinyard, the district’s chief academic officer, said that schools might need “a more consistent menu of options” while continuing to provide some autonomy for teachers.

Smith concurred. “Consistency is challenging. There is not a universal (social media) curriculum and no sense of when it gets delivered or a rubric of when we hit the bar.”

For all three, the key has been educating students and their parents.

At Lewis and Clark, Smith has brought in outside help, from visiting professors to films titled “Angst” and “Like,” which deal with the real-world issues of teen social-media anxiety and desire to be liked.

That desire can have disastrous consequences for some teens, who leave themselves open to bullying.

“Pictures get exchanged, things get said, and when you’re a young adult you need to understand the consequence,” Smith said.

And like North Central, Lewis and Clark has seen fights that are recorded instead of broken up.

However, Lewis and Clark has received generally positive feedback this year on a new rule that bans cellphone use during class.

“A lot of kids say they’re relieved that they don’t have it,” said superintendent Shelley Redinger, who has a son at Lewis and Clark.

However, others give in to the slightest temptation. Given the chance to access their phones to add a calendar item for school, many “get lured back in,” Smith said.

Sacajawea is taking an aggressive approach to educating parents, Ochse said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, he distributed copies of “Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online.” The 22-page book, published by the Federal Trade Commission, offers clear guidelines for parents.


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