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Parents Tune In to School Radio

Talk to administrators about critical goals and you'll find communications with parents high on their list. But what's the best way to reach parents? Often important notices given to middle or high school students never get home to parents, who no longer make checking their children's backpacks a daily habit. SchoolCast FM helps schools solve the communications-with-parents-problem. The small FM radio station provides everything a school needs to get daily messages on the air and requires no FCC license. Included: Education World spoke with principals whose schools use SchoolCast FM!

In February, after an earthquake that registered 5.8 on the Richter scale hit the area around Everett, Washington, Dr. David Jones, principal of Eisenhower Middle School in Everett, needed to alert parents that the students and the school were safe. Jones immediately began broadcasting on Radio Ike 101.9FM, the school's radio station, to reassure the community.

Parents, naturally concerned, had begun driving to the school and as they approached tuned in to Radio Ike. Immediately, their worst fears were allayed; they calmed down, drove safely, and some simply turned around without even coming into the school. What could have resulted in panicky parents, a bad traffic jam, and a clogged school never materialized because of Radio Ike.


Granted, that's a dramatic example of how SchoolCast FM can be used. But schools around the country now are employing radio stations to broadcast about everything from emergencies to homework tips.

A company calledPartners in Learning Programs, Inc., based in Chula Vista, California, markets SchoolCast FM. The company sells the entire SchoolCast FM system, complete with studio microphone and external antenna, for $1,395.00. Funding sources for the equipment range from school budgets to Drug Free/Safe Schools grants, area businesses, PTAs or PTOs, and community groups.

"For years, a number of churches, campgrounds, and schools have used low-power transmitters to broadcast basic information on-site to captive audiences," Tom Sharrit, president of Partners in Learning Programs, told Education World. "I saw the low-power transmitter as an excellent resource tool to take school-to-parent communication to the next level. How a school utilizes the system is limited only by the school's creativity or imagination." Sharrit said he thinks several hundred schools across the country use some form of low-power transmitter, purchased from various sources.

Dr. Jones talked to Education World about the ways the radio station helps with school communications. Because it's a small, low-powered transmitter, the schools do not need broadcast licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. Radio Ike only can reach people driving through the school campus and parking areas or living very close by. But even with that limitation, Dr. Jones said the station has become a very effective communications tool.


About half of the parents with children at Eisenhower Middle School drop them off and pick them up. In addition, school buses all have radios, so students also can listen to Radio Ike. The station's messages run in four-minute "loops," which are repeated over a 24-hour period. The content of a loop can be changed any time. At Eisenhower the content is changed at least once a week and sometimes more frequently.

"I tell parents about the upcoming week's activities," said Dr. Jones. "If a big event such as Back to School Night or a school dance is coming up, I include that too."

Eisenhower sends home a monthly newsletter, also delivered by e-mail. The paper newsletter tends to get lost, and not every parent receives e-mail. Parents say they really like the radio station, Dr. Jones reported, because they simply tune in and the news is there. If they hear something on the radio two or three days in a row, they are more likely to remember it than if they read it once.

"I also remind parents when the school is in the final week of our reading contest," Dr. Jones explained. "I remind them when there are two more weeks before our report period ends so they can call their children's teachers if they have any questions."


Another middle school in California also has found a variety of applications for its radio station. "We use our station, which is called Blackhawk Radio, in all sorts of ways," Dr. Ben Carpenter, principal of Ball Junior High School in Anaheim, California, told Education World. "On Martin Luther King's birthday, a student read the 'I Have a Dream' speech, which parents really responded to.

"A parent told me she reminded her son to get an Honor Society application, which he had forgotten about, after hearing me talk about it on the radio," Carpenter continued. "I'm in the building by 5:30 or 6, and I record a daily bulletin of upcoming announcements. I update it each day.

"We also have students read poetry; sometimes the school band plays. We try to be as creative as possible with it," Dr. Carpenter said. "We want it to be the voice of the students as well as the administrators."


What do various schools communicate via the FM stations? Sharrit recited a lengthy list, including:
  • homework tips
  • test preparation suggestions
  • picture day information
  • fund-raising reminders
  • volunteer opportunities
  • school-business partnership information
  • student achievement
  • what's new in school technology
  • public service messages
  • directions to events

"No matter how many notes go home," Sharrit said, referring to communications from school, "they don't always go home!

"We live in an age of mass communication," Sharrit continued. "A small radio station can complement a school's technology program, audio-visual center, TV station, school paper, or Web site.

"It can enrich the core curriculum with lessons on interviewing, public speaking in broadcasting, or script writing, and provide an avenue for community service. And most of all, it's a lot of fun to have your very own radio station at your school."

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 8/7/2001
Links updated 06/30/2004