What Delete Day demonstrates about successful school initiatives

The headline caught my attention as I scrolled through The Huffington Post headlines on my iPhone.

“Delete Day: Students Erase Cyberbullying One Key At A Time”

Cyberbullying is an interest of mine as a former high school English and journalism teacher who has seen and tried to prevent the traditional school bullying – before cyberbullying was a possibility.

I became more informed on the topic last year when a graduate student of mine, Kara Carnley Murrhee, wrote her master’s thesis on the topic — “Regulation of Student Speech in the Digital Age: A Case Study of the Effects of Florida’s Anti-Cyber Bullying Law on Public School Student Expression Policies.”

As I read Joy Resmovits’ story on Delete Day at The Mary Louis Academy of Jamaica Estates, N.Y., I was interested in seeing how the school decided to take on this hot-button issue, which often is raging unnoticed by teachers, school administrators and the students’ parents.

On May 6, students at Mary Louis Academy could go into the computer lab, open their Facebook accounts, and make changes – including deleting Facebook groups, friends, and even their entire Facebook account. More than 200 students participated.

Here are six reasons that this event is a success and a model for school initiatives that involve changing student culture.

1. Delete Day is part of a school awareness initiative on cyberbullying.
Last fall, Allyson Gutierrez, the school’s Service Homeroom Program Coordinator, decided to invite a guest speaker Alison Trachtman Hill, founder of Critical Issues for Girls, to be part of a conference on cyberbullying. So the topic of cyberbullying had been a topic of discussion for most of the school year prior to Delete Day, and the discussion had been based on research and strategic advice from a specialist in the field. Sometimes well-meaning school administrators, teachers or parents’ groups implement a school/student change initiative without the students and the school community being adequately informed about the topic.

2. The concept of Delete Day was tied to the school’s mission.
The annual theme for the all-female Catholic school is: ““Women of dignity, making a difference, through faith, service and inclusive love.” Reviewing and revising one’s cyber personality fit well into the theme. Students were encouraged to delete photos, groups and other content that didn’t “reflect their true image,” the Huffington Post quotes Gutierrez as saying. The Service Homerooms, which are voluntary for students and focus each year on a topic with a social justice theme, played a lead in promoting discussion of cyberbullying.

3. Delete Day was the students’ idea.
Following the conference last October, students participating in Service Homerooms discussed what action could be taken, and that discussion led to the students proposing Delete Day. From reading The Huffington Post story, seniors took the lead with Delete Day. That is much more effective than having teachers or parents taking the lead in promoting such an event.

4. Participation in Delete Day was voluntary.
Students went into the computer room during their free time to review and edit their cyber identities. This was much more effective than having each class report to the computer room. And awareness of cyberbullying and online identify was raised even for those students who didn’t participate in Delete Day. Some of the students who didn’t go to the computer lab at school during Delete Day may be reviewing their online profiles from their home computers. I’d say that most of the students at the school will be thinking about their profiles differently from now on – and talking with their siblings and friends about what should and shouldn’t be included in their online profiles.

5. Delete Day was connected to a bigger initiative.
When students were in the computer room reviewing their accounts, they also could sign a letter urging a city council member to expand New York’s anti-bullying guidelines to address cyberbullying. They could expand their concern about cyberbullying to help other students.

6. Delete Day received media coverage.
Bravo to Joy Resmovits for writing about Mary Louis Academy’s Delete Day. Too often media coverage of school issues revolves around school budgets, test results, class size, graduation rates, and discipline problems (students or teachers). Resmovits’ story addresses the kind of student-teacher-administration cooperation that can create great schools and promote the kind of life-changing learning that can’t be implemented or assessed by standardized tests.

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