‘The Cat Eye’ Is Positive Spotlight on Pinelands Regional SchoolsIn-House Social Media Campaign Affirms the Good
From sports to the stage to staff past and present – and more – “The Cat Eye” is a social media showcase of the accomplishments and contributions of students and employees of the Pinelands Regional School District. The project is the brainchild of science teacher Jim Ardoin, who launched the positive presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the fall of 2015, and later garnered assistance from English teacher Shari Wyckoff, who edits the written material, and special education teacher Scott Beaton, the primary photographer for the sites.
Recent posts on the Facebook page (“The CAT EYE PRSD”) include videos of the junior high school jazz band; black and white photos of teachers from Aug. 19, 1979, when Pinelands first opened its doors; a “Staff Sunday” write-up on James Bond, manager of information services for Pinelands, Bass River and Eagleswood; a repost of a girls soccer preview article; and a special feature in which Ardoin, who used to run The Cat Eye anonymously, explains how and why he started the project.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working here, and much of my life has revolved around our two schools and the people in them,” said Ardoin. “As much as I love Pinelands, I have always been frustrated at the negativity surrounding Pinelands, both in the schools and around the community. That frustration came to a head last spring when there were daily posts on multiple Facebook pages that were quite negative. The majority of the information being commented on was false, and that negativity seemed to be going viral as person after person added their ignorance to the foray.
“I was disgusted and tired of the false information being accepted as truth. I decided it was time to attempt to change the culture that has been allowed to ferment in and around our community.
“After reading an article about a Texas student who started an anonymous Instagram account to promote his fellow graduates, I decided to take on the task of creating anonymous social media accounts, the single purpose of which is to promote the positives of Pinelands,” he added. “I established these accounts with these four basic understandings: People don’t know who we (staff and students) are; people don’t know what we (staff and students) do every day; people have no idea about our alumni’s accomplishments; and, most importantly, if we continue to allow everyone else to write our story, we will be stuck with the story they write!”
Some of the regular highlights on the sites include “Teacher Tuesday,” “Wildcat Wednesday,” “Throwback Thursday,” “Alumni Friday” and, as mentioned, “Staff Sunday,” along with Pinelands-related articles from other media sources. This summer, The Cat Eye team featured current and retired teachers from Pinelands’ sending districts via “Cats CommUNITY posts.”
Cathy Schaffer, a social studies teacher in the district, pointed out that Ardoin, along with Wyckoff and Beaton, “spend hours of their time promoting Pinelands. They all do this on their own time and without being paid to do so.”
Ardoin concurred, noting, “We have done all of this work on a volunteer basis while still teaching a full schedule, coaching sports, chaperoning events, and raising our own children.” It is all to ensure that the community, and beyond, learns about the many positive people and happenings at Pinelands.
Ardoin does all the writing for The Cat Eye, which entails emailing questions to various individuals, organizing their answers into a story and then, after Wyckoff edits the material, posting the story on social media.
Last December, before Ardoin revealed his identity as the man behind The Cat Eye, Wyckoff guessed and unmasked him, and offered to proofread and edit the features. “She has been a huge help with editing our posts, but has been an even better ‘cheerleader’ and soundboard for ideas and reflection,” Ardoin remarked.
Beaton, meanwhile, came on board after Ardoin asked staff to take and submit pictures of various activities in the district.
“I received many amazing pictures from … Scott Beaton,” Ardoin explained. “I decided to reach out to Scott via The Cat Eye email address and asked him to take portraits of staff and teachers for their features.
“The pictures were amazing and I kept sending him on assignment after assignment. After a really busy week, I felt guilty and revealed myself to Scott to let him know who the lunatic is that keeps asking him for more pictures! Since that moment, Scott has continued to provide the majority of the pictures for The Cat Eye, as well as other ideas for features.”
According to Beaton, “I always felt like as a district we under-utilized social media. So when I saw the initial email about submitting photos to The Cat Eye Instagram account (we didn’t have a Facebook page yet), I jumped on it. I was just so glad to see us using social media to tell our story.
“Being a photographer I was always taking pictures of the unique activities we do in my autism classroom and photos of the Challenger League, which I have coached for years. I was basically bombarding The Cat Eye with photos to promote these kids and all they were accomplishing. Around December I got an email asking me if I could go take some portraits of a few staff members and a few events we had going on around that time. I was having a blast doing it and the requests just kept on coming until Jim revealed himself.”
He added, “Once Jim revealed himself, I got to hear the ‘why’ and really understand his goals for it. At that point I was just like, ‘Whatever you need, I am in.’ Not only do I teach here but I have lived in this community for almost 10 years now. I always felt there was a lot of good that was overlooked here, for whatever reason. But now we have this extremely effective platform through which we can share that. I’d like to think it hasn’t just had an impact on school morale but also pride within the community from which our students come from.
“I just really believe in what we are doing.”
As Ardoin noted, “I really need to thank both Shari and Scott for their contributions and for supporting my efforts. As I said, we all have personal and professional responsibilities and this project is a ton of extra work. … I would also like to thank everyone who follows, likes and shares our posts – your efforts are vital in making our positive news go as viral as the negative foolishness used to spread.”
The trio behind the project also relies on individuals in the district and the community to inform them of events and news, and to send in photos as well. All material should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ardoin said the social media platforms are just the beginning of this project to get the upbeat word out about Pinelands folks and the district goings on. “This project is not suggesting that Pinelands is perfect in any way, but there is a substantially larger number of positive experiences happening here every day. I feel privileged to walk through these halls with some of the finest people in the world. And it is an honor to call them my students and colleagues!
“We are so grateful for all of the support for our efforts. The Cat Eye has been powerful in communicating and promoting the positives of Pinelands so far, and we intend to continue to inform our community about people and activities that should make them proud!”