PTA Meeting Notes: November 18, 2015

Michele Weisman, PTA co-president, welcomed the standing-room only crowd. Before the main event, ‘Life on Line, Young People Navigating the Web,’ Michele invited Felicia Lipson to speak about the annual fund. Felicia asked parents to imagine HCHS without clubs, theater, sports, books, school supplies, conferences, robust college counseling, fee waivers, technology, professional development, and all of the other terrific things for which our PTA dollars pay. Even though she is a parent of a senior, Felicia is still asking for all of us to contribute so HCHS can continue provide avenues for our children to follow their passions. Please visit Felicia thanked everyone and handed the microphone over to Hayley Gorenberg, Programming Chair.

Hayley fully introduced the topic for the panel discussion, ‘Life on Line, Young People Navigating the Web.’ The panel was comprised of students ranging from 8th grade to seniors, Lisa Siegmann, and Dr. Fisher. The following summary provides attribution for adult questions and comments, but condenses all student panel answers into just a few voices.

HG: What social media software do you use? What is interesting and why?

Panel: Texting, Email, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Students like that Snapchat posts disappear unless someone quickly captures it in a screenshot. Others like Instagram. Several students enjoy posting video, seeing it as a way to tell a short story. The capacity to procrastinate while still feeling productive came up several times. One student said, “Everyone at Hunter uses Facebook,” implying that to skip Facebook is to be left out academically and socially. Other students never used or gave up Facebook because it’s too easy to lose track of time.

Those who use social media see it as overwhelmingly positive. They discussed the down sides in detail, but did not want the positives to be lost in the conversation. An 8th grader felt that social media seems more negative than positive, and has therefore never participated in it.

Most students have seen comments posted that no one would make in person. The seeming distance provided by the screen creates an emotional disconnect that can allow for truly strident postings. The targets of those postings can feel painfully isolated.

HG: What happens if something negative is happening on social media? How do you cope?

Panel: A good way to avoid cyberbullying is to practice common sense. Don’t interact with people you don’t know. Use standard internet safety guidelines posted by Facebook. Some cyberbulling can be prevented by blocking posters, including blocking all anonymous posts. One can report posts to the platform host such as Facebook or Instagram but that can only do so much good. Avoiding social media is easy for some, but perhaps not for others. As HCHS has zero tolerance for such bullying, you can report conversations to school (administration or counseling) if there is bullying.

Lisa Siegmann (LS): The HCHS threshold is clear. When something happens online at night that becomes not ok at school the next morning the administration will step in. It is truly inspirational to have seen the number of times students have contacted the administration because of concern for another student. Over and over, HCHS students look out for each other.

Panel: Anonymous sites have more negativity, yet have some use. Sometimes asking a question in person is just too hard. There is more accountability when your name is attached. You want to say nice things if the comments can be attributed to you.

Tony Fisher (TF): There are usually a few incidents every year. Problems stem from students doing the exact same things previous generations did, but students lose the idea that this is permanent, comments may get passed along even if the poster take it down right away. The back and forth has a larger audience and people get caught up in the moment. Jokes can go too far, a tone doesn’t carry into text as it would in personal communication, and conversations can go in (unintended) directions.

LS: Kids private message posters to back off as they see chats going bad. The administration is trying to help make taking that initiative part of the HCHS culture. There are times when some students publicly try to stop negative conversations. That takes bravery. Being proactive and interventionist is absolutely part of our students’ capacity. We are future leaders.

TF: I would define HCHS policy as the following: If something is going on over the internet, affects the educational community, or the psychological safety of students, we want to know about it and will intervene. We take an expansive view of what is our purview if it means keeping students and the environment safe.

Panel: Students want varying degrees of parental intervention. Discussions around productivity are more effective than specific time limitations. Each student agreed that they know their own productivity. Working with parents to set limits is effective. Perhaps agreeing to complete a specific number of assignments and then only go online for a short time, or leaving social media for the weekends may work. Losing time for work or sleep is too easy when following social media is a problem, but creating contention doesn’t help.

Parent: How about sharing passwords with parents, friending parents, and external controls?

Panel: While no student was thrilled with parents reading his or her messages, all agreed that parents, not some external venue, should create limits around explicit content, and provide routine guidance. Most students do have one parent as a friend on their social media sites.

Positives to social media sites:

  • Great for announcements, updates, birthday greetings.
  • Keeping in touch with friends on different schedules, in different schools, camp friends.
  • Reading about current events.
  • Sharing/locating study guides.
  • Coordinating group projects.
  • Kids have seen each other’s cries for help so can help friends get the help they need.
  • Get hold of someone.

Students’ standout statements:

  • “From a young age (her) parents taught her never to press send when you’re angry.”
  • “It’s ok to see the comment, but you have to see the person behind the comment.”
  • “Not only is it permanent, it affects the people just as if you’re speaking to them in person.”
  • “FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is real. Sometimes it’s good to talk to people … that helps.”
  • “Kids can always find a way to hide stuff.”
  • “No one ever wants to go to Brooklyn, so it’s a really good way of interacting and getting work done.

Hayley thanked the panel and the students raced off to their busy evenings of homework and online chat. Michele introduced Gila Ivey-Selicious ( who reviewed the 2015-2016 HCHS PTA budget. The allocations were voted on and approved at 8:17pm.