Texting Snow

By Ellen Dietrick, Director of Congregation Beth Israel Preschool and Kindergarten

Its the season of inclement weather closings. The time tested ways of notifying families of school closings, announcing it through the radio, tv, and a weather closing phone line, produce mixed results. An issue remained: families had to consider that the school might be closed to think to check in with these information sources. At our school, a sudden unexpected flood meant those with flooding basements thought to check if the school was impacted, but those on higher ground went on with their usual routine, never considering that the school might be closed.

A little voice rang in my head: Go to your audience.

With the traditional systems, families had to come to us. How could we get the information straight to them? Email notifications helped, but with children to feed and dress, lunches to pack, and that pesky missing shoe to find, so many families keep the computer off during the early morning hours. Email again requires your audience to come to you. I considered a phone alert system, like those used by politicians, but they were expensive, requiring monthly subscriptions. And not everyone appreciates a 6am wake up call.

Text messaging to the rescue! Now parents receive a text message on their cell phones the instant the decision is made. We still maintain the traditional notification systems, but the text alert gets by far the most praise. From the parents’ prospective, it is direct and simple, and comes straight to them. The information in on hand the moment they wake up. For many they get the text before they go to bed, and can start planning accordingly for the next day. From an administrative prospective, it is easy to use, time efficient, and at 2-5 cents per message, depending on the type of message and the plan you choose, quite affordable.

Sample text messages from this unseasonably snowy winter.
Sample text messages from this unseasonably snowy winter.

So those childhood memories of sitting by the radio, waiting as lists of school closings were announced are no longer. An easier way has finally arrived.
How to get started:

  1. There are many text messaging alert options out there. We chose Ez Texting http://www.eztexting.com/
  2. Sign up now. Dont wait until you need to send a message. Advance preparations are critical.
  3. Allow families to opt out. Some phone plans charge for text messages, so not everyone will want to be notified this way. We offered the chance to opt out in our weekly school newsletter and out of 130 people, we had 6 choose to opt out.
  4. Consider your groups. In our case, there may be times we will want to notify just teachers of an emergency schedule change.
  5. Load the cell numbers onto the site, grouping as appropriate.
  6. Purchase credits.
  7. When you are ready to send a message, simply log in, type your message (the number of characters is limited, so keep it short), and hit send.

And remember to add a cell phone field to every registration form, so you have the information to use.

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