Educator George Macchio found that implementing Celly was a “a no brainer”. He writes, “I put 3 or 4 lines of instructions on the email signature of every email I’ve sent out for over a year now. As students mention it to each other or I remind them at rehearsal, we’ve gotten just about everyone on the Celly.” The complex network of a school campus demands a communication system that is lightweight and flexible. Educators, from history teachers to band leaders, are able to apply Celly to their varied needs. Read on for more from Mr. Macchio about his integration of our service with the Sachem Arrows Marching Band!
The Sachem Arrows Marching Band is a competitive marching band ensemble much like a drum corps or a big college halftime show. Each Fall our group travels to neighboring high schools and competes as part of a New York state competitive circuit. The organization has been in our school district for over 30 years and has over 100 student members and many dedicated, active parents that help us manage the group. Sachem is one of the largest suburban school districts in the state of New York and our marching band has members from all across our 18 building district which makes communicating, organizing and keeping track of everything quite a feat. Our group probably uses technology and the web more than most extra-curricular groups in our district, especially since our students call many different schools home and are spread out over a wide area.
I first heard about Celly from a graduate level course instructor about 2 years ago. The course focused on technology in the classroom and we looked at dozens of websites, applications and services that could benefit instruction and school groups. (Thanks, Don!) I went to the Cel.ly website and read about what your service was capable of and immediately saw the value of such a simple, text based applicaiton that I could manipulate from the cell phone in my pocket.
Let’s say there is some terrible weather on the way and we need to cancel our rehearsal on the turf football field at our high school. Previously, I would text message student leaders and ask them to call through an abbreviated phone chain, text their friends, instant message others or even drive to the school myself with staff members to stand outside and turn people away. Now with Celly, I can send a short text message to the cell phone of every student and parent that has signed up for our cell and on any kind of phone, anywhere they are, they get the message. We recently traveled with 70 students to Disneyworld in Florida. We were able to constantly stay in touch with students across multiple locations for free, in real time. If someone was unable to get to our dinner time attendance check-in or lost a hotel room key, I could text them and quickly get in touch or meet up, saving time and eliminating worry for everyone involved.
We’ve been using Google Calendar and Gmail for years now to send out links, files and generally keep in touch with a large, active group that fundraises, travels and rehearses throughout many months of the year. To an extent, email was our main method of communication for quite some time with almost no other mass messaging option. Although smart phones are less expensive, easier to use and more available every day, not everyone checks their email throughout the day and students even less so. Data plans, wi-fi access, different email services and many other things (not to mention personal habits) affect the 2-way street of email messages. If I have some detailed information I need to send out but only 60% of our membership reads it, we have lots of questions and secondary emails to answer over the coming days to get everyone on the same page.
Celly messages are text based and I can keep our giant Celly group from having a massive group chat. That means I can send out a message and it will hit any kind of cell phone, new or old, on any carrier network even in poor coverage areas and each person signed up will get the message right away. Email is great for long detailed messages but if there’s ever a mistake in my emails, an emergency or a last minute change, I know that every member of our group and even many of their parents will get the message quickly and easily. The trick is (to me at least): Use it sparingly or it becomes just another annoyance to everyone.
I have a few favorite features that work in tandem, making this an excellent service for fast, professional messages from teachers to students without drifting into the grey area of social networking or constant chatting and availability. When a cell is started with a large school group, for example, the moderator can remain the sole message sender and account administrator. That way, you can prohibit all members from replying, or we’d all end up with giant text messaging charges on our monthly bill. Another great feature, especially for school groups, is that I can approve or deny those who would like to sign up, that way I can keep people from signing up only to cause trouble. In addition, if necessary, I can message individually through Celly. I can’t always have the cell phone number of every student and parent handy without integrating it with my personal cell phone contacts. Instead, anyone who has signed up for our marching band Celly is able to message me directly through the service and I can reply, assuming it’s important and there’s no other way for us to get in touch. Last but possibly the best feature: signing up requires just one text message and thinking of a username. No account sign-ins or passwords for members to worry about. Join the service and you get the messages. Want to leave? Just as easy.
I haven’t heard much verbally from students and parents but sometimes I’ve sent a message out while the group is traveling somewhere and as I pass through a crowd I can see kids checking their phones. It certainly works, its just a matter of applying it when it’s most crucial. It’s a great addition in the bag of tricks for large groups and makes my cell phone a much more valuable tool.