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Dr Seuss quote: someone like you cares

Standing Up for Schools in Cecil County

or “How I used Content Marketing to get a school a track”

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak about some trouble I stirred up in the spring. I won’t lie, I was nervous, but it was an honor and a thrill to speak to a like-minded group of parents, teachers, administrators, and students all supporting the work of Cecil County Public Schools.

My comments from that night:

Before this spring, I considered myself a pretty well informed parent–I was PTA treasurer at PES, I attended parent meetings on various topics, and I voted in every election.

Boy, was I wrong–I had–and still have–a lot to learn about how school systems and government agencies interact. But I’ve seen a community working together to make great things happen. By giving people information about a topic they’re passionate about in a way that’s easy for them to digest and pointing them in the right direction, you can create a force to be reckoned with.It all started with a bare soccer field and a Facebook post. I saw a Facebook post from CCPS asking for people to attend a county council meeting on March 18 in support of the CCPS budget. I decided to attend that evening’s meeting but I had no idea what I would say. To be honest, I was more specifically angling to talk with someone about the sorry state of our soccer field.

I sent a quick email to our principal and athletic director to ask about any Perryville-specific projects that I should advocate for–and they both responded with track, fields, field house. Now, I had no idea what a field house was but I’d heard people complain about the lack of one at Perryville and I didn’t know anything about the state of the track–but I could tell you that our fields were beyond bare.

At that meeting, several parents and CCPS employees spoke about the specific needs of their schools–needs that included increased staffing and services–but most glaringly–the needs for maintenance of the facilities. I am not a public speaker and I was terrified to walk up to that microphone but, after hearing the pleas for funding, and the responses of some of the council members, I needed to do my part.

As I spoke to the council, I realized that, just as I had no idea how the county government worked, they had no idea what the facilities at PHS looked like and what our needs were. And that’s when I decided to bring Perryville High School to them–online. That Sunday afternoon I took photos of athletic facilities at Perryville–then I drove to Rising Sun and North East High Schools, thinking their facilities had to be better than ours–I was wrong again–to my uneducated eye, those schools weren’t faring any better. That evening I posted those first photos on my blog and shared them on my Facebook page.

And by the end of the week, after a blog post that the track at Perryville had been deemed unfit for competition, my little blog that had had only 10,000 page views in 2 years, had 2,200 views in one day! Word was spreading beyond the internet because the Cecil Whig was calling me for a comment on the track!

The next few weeks are a bit of a blur as I started urging people to attend county council meetings and send email to the council and county executive. And I was overwhelmed with the response! I was spending my spare time learning about the CCPS budget process and then creating blog posts with the information–and realizing that this was much more complex than I’d ever imagined.

You see, CCPS does an excellent job of documenting their work and plans for the future of the school system in their budget proposals and annual reports, unfortunately, that information isn’t easy for some of us without sufficient background to understand and act on. I have a saying at times like these, “They’re all English words but I have no idea what they mean.” So when I attended Dr. Devine’s spring budget forum, I asked for “talking points” because I needed something I could easily grasp and re-purpose. Once I had that messaging, I was able to spread the story on my blog and on social media. I posted on Facebook and Twitter to reach the adults and shared some posts on Instagram to reach the teenagers.

A little over 6 months and one new track later, there seems to be a more positive spirit at PHS. New groups are forming to support specific programs or general needs and the students seem just as excited as the parents about making things happen at our school. As Dr. Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

What does content marketing have to do with this?

I didn’t realize it when I first started blogging about budgets and facilities but I was applying the basics of content marketing by creating and sharing content “to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” In this case, my goal was driving actions, not profits, and, in order to do that, I had to help the audience–parents, students, other residents–understand what was at stake and how to get involved. Teachers and administrators already knew the needs of the school system but it all came down to funding. Once these groups were speaking as a more unified front, they were able to really get the attention of our elected officials.

It was a busy spring and I consider my efforts a success but a new budget season is about to get underway and the needs of our schools are just as great now as they were in the last budget.

Stay tuned–