Connecting through photos: Johnnycake Elementary uses Instagram to engage families


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but at Johnnycake Elementary School, pictures are proving to be worth a lot more.

Earlier this month, the elementary school hosted its first Game Night this school year. Open to Johnnycake students and their families, the evening offered attendees a chance to enjoy dinner with friends; learn about S.T.A.T., the school system’s digital conversion initiative; and, of course, play games to build language and mathematics skills. But, unlike past family nights, this month’s Game Night also included something else: the launch of the school’s Instagram page.

“Our family nights are always a big event for our community,” says Jennifer Lynch, one of Johnnycake’s assistant principals, about the school’s decision to unveil the page during Game Night. “We felt this would be a great opportunity to highlight the strong and positive community at Johnnycake.”

And she was right: With more than 400 families in attendance, Game Night helped spread the word and generate excitement about the school’s success and growing social media presence.

But the lead-time to the Instagram page’s launch was a long one, says Lynch. When she and Bre Fortkamp, Johnnycake’s principal, formed a new administrative team three years ago, they looked for ways to strengthen communication and community engagement. They found their answer in social media.

“At first, we put out a survey asking which types of social media were preferred,” says Lynch. The survey, she adds, collected feedback from “parents, students, staff members, and community members.”

After that first round of polling, Lynch and Fortkamp launched a Twitter page for Johnnycake and revamped its school website. But, when they found that few of their families actively used Twitter, Lynch and Fortkamp conducted more research.

“General research revealed that more than 30 percent of Americans use Facebook as their main source of news and information,” says Lynch. “[So] we launched a Facebook page, which is more commonly accessed by parents.”

Since starting the school’s Facebook page, Lynch and Fortkamp have achieved their goals to build dialogue and increase community involvement. In fact, according to Lynch, posts to Johnnycake’s Facebook page have received more 2,600 views during a single week.

But, despite their success, the administrators wanted to engage more families. That’s why they launched the school’s Instagram account.

“[We] found that Instagram is one of the most commonly-used social media sites in our community,” says Lynch after speaking with the school’s students, parents, staff, and neighbors again. “Most students have an Instagram account, and many of our parents also use Instagram frequently.”

To prepare for the Instagram page’s debut, however, Johnnycake’s faculty and staff still had one more task to complete: discuss safe social media use with their students. According to Lynch, students learned how to protect themselves online at the beginning of the school year so that they’d be ready for the launch.

While Lynch and Fortkamp look forward to building the school’s Instagram page in the future, they say Johnnycake remains committed to reaching families through other media, as well.

“[W]e also utilize newsletters, PTA meetings, personalized communication by our parent service coordinator, and collaboration with the Office of World Languages to provide communication to our non-English speaking families,” says Lynch. “Many of our teachers and staff members also use professional Twitter accounts to communicate with their students and families. [And] our PTA recently launched their own Facebook page in order to create a forum for parents to discuss community and school issues.”

As the “hidden gem of the southwest,” as Lynch puts it, Johnnycake always has had a lot of good news. Now with the launch of its Instagram page, the elementary school will be able to share that good news through words – and photographs, too!

Follow Johnnycake Elementary School on Instagram @johnnycakelem.


Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photos by Jennifer Lynch, assistant principal, Johnnycake Elementary School.
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