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The Social Institute
Jacqueline Keller

The Social Institute

At a time when students spend an average of nine hours each day on digital devices, Avon Old Farms School administrators were eager to find an innovative solution to shine a light on the importance of students’ actions online. The solution is called The Social Institute.

The Social Institute partners with schools nationwide to provide a positive, sustainable solution to social media education—one that students co-create, respect, and embrace. It empowers schools to have a social media curriculum by visiting campus for a kick-off event, providing an ongoing curriculum, and creating customized packages to fit a school’s vision and needs.

“It is our goal to teach our students to be responsible with technology,” commented Headmaster Jim Detora. “It is an important skill in today's world. Students often hear all of the bad things about social media but there is also plenty of good that can come from responsible use. Teaching them about the dangers of social media is important, but equally important is teaching them how to utilize social media in a positive way so they can take advantage of it.”

Student Stats: 

56 percent of 9th through 12th grade students say they are likely to speak up if someone is using their phone while driving.

66 percent of 5th grade students say they have not signed a technology contract at home.

29 percent of 6th grade students say they “almost never” talk with a trusted adult about what they experience on social platforms (including texting, gaming, and social media) 

Snapchat is the preferred app for 9th through 12th graders. Instagram was ranked as the second most popular app.

In the 9th grade, 98 percent of students have their own phone.

Last fall, founder and CEO Laura Tierney visited Avon Old Farms to train administrators, staff, and students on the program. 

“Schools have an opportunity to lean into positive peer influence to strengthen their culture and students’ character and decision-making,” she said. “We’re finding that a percentage of students within each school understand how to navigate social media positively, and that understanding strengthens as they progress from 5th to 12th grade. Schools are leveraging that insight to help empower the full student body to make positive, high character choices. The future of positive social media education in schools is deeply rooted in student leadership.”

This spring, as one piece of the school’s larger Prep4ward program, faculty and staff are leading small groups of students through The Social Institute’s online platform of gamified lessons. Grouped by grade, students and faculty navigated age-appropriate content. For example, the first lesson for freshmen focused on posting, sharing, and liking content that reflect an individual’s values and character, while sophomores spent half an hour understanding the complexity and impact of free speech online. 

For seniors, the first lesson examined why soft skills matter to employers and colleges. Through a series of Q&As, the lesson focused on the importance of not only nurturing soft skills, but also how to introduce them through an interview or application. The following week, students were asked to add those skills to a new LinkedIn profile.

To ensure a proper roll out, educators received professional development training in order to facilitate those lessons. Parents can also access what students are learning and receive ongoing tech tools, guidelines, and advice to help their kids navigate social media.

“While I am constantly giving our students a hard time about having their phones out, I know that it is a real part of their lives and one they cannot be expected to put down completely,” shared Detora. “By showing the boys that our core values of brotherhood, scholarship, integrity, and sportsmanship apply to their digital lives, too, we hope to arm them with skills that will help them be good men in a future filled with technology and online communication.”

By reinforcing character strengths like empathy, integrity, and teamwork, and by teaching students and their role models to be their best selves on all platforms, The Social Institute is helping Avonians ‘win the game of social media.’