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Schools use social media to connect with students, community


Sheri Cafer strolls down the hallways of Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka, taking photos as she goes. Cafer shares photos like the one above on the school’s Facebook page as a way to engage students and give the Topeka community a glimpse into life at Hayden. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Moira Cullings

TOPEKA — Sheri Cafer and Cody Whitney take Pope Francis’ request to go out to the peripheries very seriously.

For them, that means reaching out to Hayden Catholic High School students where they are — on social media.

As the pair in charge of the school’s Facebook and Twitter pages, they know how crucial this form of communication is when it comes to reaching younger generations.

“Data shows that kids and people are turning more and more to Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to find important news information,” said Whitney.

“So, it’s such a huge and beneficial communicative tool,” he added.

Whitney, dean of students, handles the school’s Twitter page while Cafer, assistant to the principal, runs its Facebook page.

Both had previous experience working with social media and feel passionate about how essential it is for any organization.

“What I really like about it is the fact that I can connect with members of our community who want to know what’s going on inside of our walls during our day,” said Whitney.

This allows students’ families to get a glimpse of what goes on at Hayden on a daily basis, he said.

“I think that level of transparency helps to create more investment in what we’re trying to do here,” he continued, “which is give students the most comprehensive educational experience possible.”

The ability to help its audience visualize what goes on inside Hayden’s walls is a huge benefit, especially when it comes to promoting the school to prospective students, said Cafer.

“Instead of only focusing in on Hayden, we’re trying to broaden it and capture [local] elementary schools as well,” she said. “And to try to make them feel like they’re a part of the Hayden community so it will be an easy transition.

“I try to come up with ways to get those outlying families that are already there and already in Catholic education to feel like they’re a part of Hayden.”

But when it comes down to it, the most significant focus for Cafer and Whitney is connecting with Hayden students themselves.

To ensure this connection, the pair posts photos of students and daily happenings around the halls and classrooms of the school.

“When they start seeing themselves on Facebook, it’s kind of a competition,” said Cafer.

They feel special when they’re included and have an opportunity to share those photos with their family and friends, she said.

“Really, the [teens themselves are] driving a lot of our processes now,” said Whitney. “So trying to make sure kids are provided the information and a means to communicate and express their pride is really huge.

“And with the increased desire for the ‘now’ and for the increased desire for immediate communication, we really have an amazing tool on our hands to be able to sit there and Facebook a message or send a tweet out really quick.”

What helps the two take advantage of the many possibilities social media offers is some old-fashioned networking.

“Being able to use it as a professional learning tool is, from our perspective, huge,” said Whitney.

One of the schools they have the opportunity to share strategies with is Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, whose social media accounts are run by Joshua Sukraw, the school’s marketing and social media manager.

“I enjoy the fast-paced ‘right now’ environment that social media is all about,” said Sukraw. “It is a lot more personal and gives a chance to really connect with our students and families in a unique way.”

Bishop Ward’s accounts, like Hayden’s, focus on building a relationship with students by meeting them where they are. For Sukraw, it’s similar to creating a “scrapbook” the school can share with its audience, which also includes former students.

“Many times, people think about the younger generation utilizing social media — and they definitely do,” he said. “However, we know that our alumni utilize Facebook and other platforms to stay connected, organize class reunions and volunteer.

We love our alumni and it’s a great way to stay connected.”

Regardless of why high schools and organizations use social media, one thing is for certain.

“I think you have to have a presence,” said Cafer. “We’ve got to cater to what our customers want.

“And if we don’t, we’re going to miss out.”

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage the website, social media channels and Archbishop Naumann's Facebook page. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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