Students of Jacobs High School hold up their cell phones which now contain the personal cell phone number of their principal, Michael Bregy. Behind Bregy, (from left) are Zach Bates, Cassie Castillo, Taylor Traub, Sean Meyer and T.J. Brooks.
Many high schools across the country fight against student cell phone use.
One high school principal, however, is embracing their capabilities -- if it helps keep his students safer.
“I actually said, ‘this is pretty crazy what I’m about to do right now,’” Bregy said about his announcement. “You can just imagine the expressions on their face. They were pretty shocked.”
The idea for Bregy’s admittedly bold move came to him in a splat.
At the end of the 2008-09 school year a group of students staged a water balloon fight in the hallway as a prank. The demonstration drew hundreds of spectators who spread the news about the impending water war through viral means.
“We were amazed at how students used the technology of their cell phones to mobilize themselves so quickly that we had hundreds of students in the hallway just to watch water balloons,” Bregy said. “Since our priority is to ensure a safe building we decided to fight fire with fire.”
So, in an effort to connect with his student body, he joined the digital age. Bregy believed his students would be more willing to come forth with information through text message rather than a visit to the Principal's office.
He may be on to something.
After receiving 100 messages in the first week of the program, the principal was forced to upgrade his cell phone plan. But he's vowed to answer every single message that comes his way.
“The great thing about texting is that very few require a lengthy response from me,” said Bregy. “I’ll get some like ‘I can see you at the football game’ or ‘Hey Mr. Bregy I’m right behind you’ if they see me in traffic, and they think that’s really funny,” Bregy said. “And that’s okay. It’s my responsibility to be as accessible as possible," he said.
But more importantly Bregy has received reliable tips regarding drugs, alcohol, bullying and fighting on school grounds.
Bregy was even able to personally break up one altercation between two female students because of a text tip that led him to the location.
"Students are the best detectives," said Bregy, who doesn't condone texting during school hours except in cases of emergency. "They want to come to a safe school."
In a recent incident in November, Bregy was alerted that a student had been posting suicidal notes on Facebook, and sending messages to friends that she wanted to end her own life. After following up on a late-night text from a concerned student, Bregy contacted the Algonquin police who were dispatched to the troubled girl’s home immediately and provided medical help.
“That one text made it worth it to me,” Bregy said.
Although some parents have criticized his initiative, claiming it takes away from face-to-face interaction, Bregy said he has received only positive feedback from staff and students.
Other school principals in District 300 are interested in creating similar programs, he said, because of the opportunity it affords them for collecting data on their students.
Bregy, who keeps a chart of every text he receives, is more excited about his new connection to students than he is about collecting data.
On Thanksgiving, Bregy said he received more than 175 text messages saying 'Happy Thanksgiving' and 'Thanks for caring about us.'
"I answered every single one," Bregy said.