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South Western School District found a way to not only to spread school pride through the community but to meet students where they are — in the age of social media.

In a yearlong social media effort, administrators will be tweeting with the hashtag #SWExcellence to encourage communication as well as involvement with the school board.

"We might say, 'Hey, find one of us at the football game tonight and you have to answer a question,' and that question might be, 'Who’s our school board president?'" said Superintendent Jay Burkhart.

Or there might be a challenge for five students to come to a school board meeting or to make a public comment from the front row, he said.

And Burkhart believes students lead the charge in community involvement.

"I think our kids need to come and tell us," about concerns, needs or good things happening in the district, he said, "because when kids come, parents come."

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In return, they will get a T-shirt sporting the hashtag along with the high school's brand, "Mustang Pride."

It's encouragement to participate, Burkhart said: If they take the shirt they have to tweet out something that makes the school excellent.

Excellence in action: Burkhart got the idea from Wisconsin superintendent Joe Sanfelippo, who spoke at a national conference for school administrators about using social media to announce the good things happening in his schools.

"He said he has people — community members — literally chasing him at football games to get a shirt," Burkhart said.

It’s brought them all together, and it strengthened the school, he said of Sanfelippo's campaign at Fall Creek School District, in Fall Creek, Wisconsin.

"We’re a strong district, but I believe it can make us even stronger," Burkhart said.

The district already has a similar campaign going on in the high school, with the theme "Leave Your Mark," in which students spread community pride by wearing a shirt, taking a picture and tweeting it.

Burkhart hopes high school students will add the #SWExcellence hashtag, too.

Administrators have been using the hashtag to spread good news — from business administrator Jeff Mummert praising the maintenance staff to R.J. Long, assistant principal for Emory H. Markle Intermediate School, highlighting a career program.

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And teachers, as well as official school accounts such as Mustang Athletics and Manheim Elementary, are also running with the idea.

Markle Intermediate School eighth-grade math teacher Chris Conover and Tom Nikolaus, a district technology and engineering teacher, highlighted student accomplishments.

And the South Western High School @swhsmustangs Twitter account shared a new program called "Sit With Us," encouraging students to welcome others to their tables at lunch.

Why social media? Burkhart said the campaign is about communication, and the best way to reach students is to "meet them where they are."

Phone calls are for parents, he said, and more often than not, students are turning to social media over traditional news outlets.

"They go to their Twitter account before they turn on the TV," he said.

"When I send out something and say, 'Hey by the way, our student placed No. 1 in the TSA competition,' now everybody sees it," he said. "That’s the goal."

And the communication should go both ways, he said, with students tweeting out accomplishments such as, "#SWExcellence — Today I took an AP test and I scored a 3/5, or a 4/5, for the third time."

The effort is to incorporate everyone — not just students and teachers but the community as well — Burkhart said, noting that many who are not students also use the district's facilities.

"We have got to do a better job of telling our community all the wonderful things that happen here," he said.

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