By Brandon Chen, Arcadia Unified School District digital communications intern
When one thinks of a school district, a robust social media presence does not come to mind; however, that is not the case of Arcadia Unified. Boasting over 6,000 Facebook followers, 4,000 Instagram followers, and 3,000 Twitter followers, Arcadia Unified and the Public Information Office strive to keep the community informed. In the heart of Arcadia High School’s Media Center lies an integral part of Arcadia Unified’s Public Information Office: The Arcadia Unified School District Digital Communications Internship. Consisting of 25 driven high school interns, the Digital Communications Internship (DCI) covers school and district-wide events, helps manage the district’s social media, and produces student-made content in the forms of videos, podcasts, and articles for the community to enjoy.
“DCI was created almost four years ago to help the Public Information Office communicate with the community and our parents, staff, and students, and to really increase the positive stories that we were able to produce and put out to the community,” said Chief Communications Officer Ryan Foran. “When it was just myself a few years ago, there were all these amazing stories that I couldn’t get to because it was just me, so I looked into creating an internship program. Now, the amount of stories that we are able to produce as a school district and the communications that we are able to get out have increased dramatically thanks to the amazing work by the students.”
Arcadia Unified strives to be innovative, with its motto “Imagine. Inquire. Inspire.” and has spent the past decade implementing personalized learning for all students. Superintendent Dr. David Vannasdall said, “Our vision for Arcadia is to give students agency. In other words, they are in control of their learning, that they have a voice in learning on our campuses and in our communities. So a natural iteration is, ‘Let’s have students participate [and] actually create and tell those stories from a student perspective,’ and at the same time while it is benefitting the school district and the community in getting great stories out, it’s a real experience for them as reporters publishing real content in social media and in the paper.”
For the students, DCI opens a whole new door of opportunity for students to gain experience in the professional world. Foran stated, “Whether they go into journalism, marketing, communications, or not, they will have skills that really help excel them in their particular field. We try to give them not only experiences to cover events, but also workshops, bringing guest speakers, and really exposing them to what the real world would be. We’ve covered major events like the Rose Parade, working alongside some of the best [journalists] in the LA market and across the world, attended USC journalism day, and have had all these other amazing experiences.” DCI has even been recognized by the California Schoool Public Relations Association for its outstanding work in producing the Chromebook Care video for the district, as well as by Buzzfeed, ranking Arcadia Unified’s Instagram page among the top educational accounts, including college, high school, and elementary, in its “Top 10 Best School Instagram Accounts” list. Foran stated, “There are so many great schools and universities running very creative Instagram pages with world-class photography; it was incredibly rewarding to be recognized among them.”
As for the community, by following Arcadia Unified’s social media, residents can be better informed about the district and stay up to date on all district news and events. Vannasdall states, “DCI and the Public Information Office end up benefiting all of us when it’s time to go out for a bond or parcel tax, when issues come up around the country like school safety as we have the ability to quickly communicate and get our talking points out, or with the fact that since we’ve been doing it all along, people trust us and have that two way conversation and feel well informed about what’s going on in our district.”
“If you are a student, especially at the high school and even now with our middle school coverage, the fact that you’re seeing your sport or your club or your activity being advertised on social media and the pictures being placed on the Internet is just special. I think that better connects students to the community and the community back to the students. Our community is very proud, and when they see that once again our Government Team won regionals and is going to state, they want to be behind us and support us,” said Vannasdall.
Michael Tseng, a DCI alumnus who has attended USC Journalism Day, USC’s Annenberg Youth Academy for rising journalists, and is a current journalism major on a full ride scholarship at the University of Southern California, recollects, “DCI was a great experience for me to explore my journalistic interests and gain real-world experience from seasoned mentors. DCI opened doors that I never thought possible, and even as a college student, I find the lessons that I’ve learned from there relevant and integral to my journalism career.”
For now, DCI continues to publish stories, photos, videos, and podcasts daily on platforms easily accessible to the community such as Facebook, Instagram, and the district website, as well as partnering with the Arcadia Weekly and Arcadia Patch to connect with the community. Vannasdall says, “To actually have a student voice in the writing of those articles is very powerful. I know when I read something that is written by a student, that voice is special and means something to me.”