SOMS Protests Demonstrate Power of Social Media
Students use online resources to communicate and demonstrate
Adults who bemoan the emerging organizational skills typical of middle school students take note: the eighth graders who have demonstrated at South Orange Middle School (SOMS) in recent weeks have used social media to organize their protests.
Shortly after news spread around South Orange Middle School that two eighth grade Social Studies teachers, Steven Cohen and Kathleen McKort, were to be denied tenure, students shared the news with Columbia High School students via email. Many of those students, who had the teachers while they were at SOMS, spread the news further and joined a newly-established "closed" Facebook group.
Several of the students credit the Facebook group with sharing the information. "I learned about Mr. Cohen and Ms. McCort on the group," explains Ben, a CHS student. "But I also found out ways to communicate with the principal's supervisors, by email and by attending the [May 14] Board of Education meeting."
Earlier that same day, SOMS students demonstrated outside the school building at 3 p.m. They were joined by CHS students, who had been notified online of the demonstration.
Within a week, days marked by a student sit-in, protests at School in Action Night, and a student walk-out, eighth grade organizers had established a dedicated email address, as well as a twitter feed, a public Facebook page, and a Youtube channel with images and video of the Friday protest. In addition, the group established Patch accounts. An online petition protesting the district decision also emerged over the weekend.
While students have demonstrated and hung posters around the school, adults have also been part of the ongoing controversy. While the district is not permitted to discuss personnel decisions, a number of parents have been outspoken on the two teachers' behalf.
Likewise, some parents say they're "not surprised" by the student protests and use of social media. "Don't forget," said one mother of an eighth grader, "this group of kids was writing and signing petitions [pro and con deleveling] as early as sixth grade." Indeed, a petition protesting the district decision has been drafted, though it's not clear if the same group authored it.
Last week discussion moved to the school’s Home and School Association (HSA). The principal and district superintendent met to “help move SOMS beyond the recent controversy,” according to a statement released by Superintendent Brian Osborne on Thursday. (Click here to read the full statement by the superintendent.)
As students, teachers and the district look forward to summer, one thing seems clear. "These kids know what they want," says one father and South Orange resident. "Heck, they even chant it in the video when they say, 'What do we want?' and they answer 'Teachers.' No matter how you feel about the whole controversy, this is a group of empowered kids."
Students who spoke on camera last Friday compared their demonstrations to Civil Rights marches and the Revolutionary War. "I just want adults to know," said one eighth grader, "that we each have our own voice."