AGAWAM – Agawam’s Social Media Awareness Night is returning for the second year, aiming to educate students and parents about website, app and Internet safety.
The event, hosted by Agawam Junior High School, is meant to bring the community together for an open conversation about monitoring social media use. Agawam Junior High School Principal Norm Robbins said that this was something that began last year, sponsored by Agawam Police Department, Mayor Richard Cohen’s office and the School Committee.
“It’s obviously one of the big things that is hitting our youth,” Robbins said. “We did it as a collaborative effort all the way from elementary up until high school, and we wanted to continue on that form for this year.”
Counselor Marisa Masciadrelli said early on in the school year, she was dealing with students coming to her about situations occurring on social media. She said that much of it was students “being really mean” to each other.
“I think in the beginning of the year, we were noticing that the issues that were happening on social media, with posting inappropriate things, fights on social media, the safety concerns that we had, a lot of the counselors’ and administrators’ time was taken up by dealing with all of these problems,” Masciadrelli said.
She brought her concerns to Robbins, and they saw the opportunity to continue what School Resource Officer Bob Burke began with the first Social Media Awareness Night last year.
Burke said that this is a chance to educate parents on issues they may not think about when it comes to the Internet and their children’s use. For example, when parents come to the school with bullying complaints, often they will only see what is said to their child, not what their child said in return.
“Rarely is it a monologue; it’s usually a dialogue,” Robbins said.
Burke said the “telephone tough guys” hide behind a phone or keyboard and say harsh things without realizing their consequence. Though it happens, for the most part, from home, Robbins said it trickles over to school grounds and becomes their responsibility.
“It wasn’t happening in the building. That’s not to say it never happens in the building, but it was happening at home,” Robbins said. “These are societal issues that happen out there, and it carries over. We’re no different than any other community.”
While Robbins said that this behavior is traditional of this age group, there are an increasing number of ways that these messages can reach students. The Social Media Awareness Night will cover forums such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder and even anonymous apps like Yik Yak.
“I can’t keep up,” Burke said. “Every couple of weeks, it’s like a new one pops up.”
Beyond using these websites to post negative and harmful statements about other students, the Social Media Awareness Night also deals with keeping students safe from people whom they may not know on the Internet.
Burke said that students who use social media some times have hundreds or thousands of followers, and likely, they do not know all of them.
“Hopefully more parents will take a bigger interest in protecting their kids, as far as online, with their phones and social media,” Burke said. “It’s to inform them, mostly for the parents to know this is what’s out there, this is what you need to look for. Don’t be afraid to check your kids’ phones, their social media, whatever they have. Check it. Keep tabs on your kids to make sure they’re doing the right thing.”
Robbins said that the issues that will be addressed at the Social Media Awareness Night are ones that affect all communities, and the key is to be proactive.
In this case, education for parents and students is crucial.
“At school, we can only do so much. We can try to talk with the kids and try to resolve it and do mediations, but then they go home and they do it,” Masciadrelli said. “The parents aren’t aware of what’s out there. It’s hard to break the cycle without education the parents on what’s out there.”
Aside from Robbins, Burke and Masciadrelli, the Hampden County Youth Advisory Board, members of the Agawam Police Department, an assistant district attorney, Superintendent William Sapelli, Mayor Richard Cohen and members of the Parent Teacher Organization will also be attending the event.
The Social Media Awareness Night is set for April 2 at 6 p.m., with a dessert reception beginning at 5:30 p.m., in the Agawam Junior High School auditorium.