Before you chide your teenager for abusing her text-messaging plan, you might want to ask who she's texting. The messages just might be going to your child's principal.
Faced with a student body that increasingly relies on text-messaging to communicate with peers and parents, one principal is hoping to harness the tool to help keep his suburban high school safe.
This month, during daily announcements, Jacobs High School Principal Michael Bregy told all 2,400 students in the building to take out their cell phones and save his personal cell phone number.
Bregy then asked students to alert him of safety concerns at the Algonquin school by sending him a text message. He pledged to answer every text - unless he is sleeping or working out in the gym before school.
"We're living in an age when technology is surpassing our ability to communicate effectively with high school students," Bregy says. "It's the adults that need to change in order to effectively communicate."
Bregy said an incident during the last week of classes last year drove home the need for better communication between students and administrators.
The principal was concerned at how rapidly students were able to communicate with each other via text messages - leading hundreds of students to congregate in the halls to watch year-end pranks.
The pranks, according to school officials, caused such a traffic jam in the hallways that administrators locked down the building - a move that struck some parents as extreme.
"That's where I saw the breakdown in communication between the administration and the students," Bregy said. "We were very reactive to what happened the last week of school with some pranks in the building."
Bregy's decision to share his cell phone number initially struck some adults in the community as a little crazy. But many of them share Bregy's hope that students will feel more comfortable using a mode of communication to which they are already accustomed.
"He's setting himself up to have quite a few interesting texts sent his way," said Jennifer Gold, parent of a Jacobs sophomore. But she added: "Once the newness wears off, it can be a pretty effective tool."
Anne Cook, the mother of two Jacobs students, agrees.
"I know he will get inappropriate texts," said Cook, who lives in Algonquin. "To get 10 inappropriate texts but one that saves someone's life or prevents injury makes it well worth it."
If Bregy's idea works, soon principals at other suburban high schools may be exchanging text messages with their teenage students.
"I thought it was very interesting, very daring," said Lynn McCarthy, principal of Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. "I'm just kind of watching to see how that goes. It's not something I'd be totally against."
Bregy is pleased with what he's seen so far. During the first week after he gave out his number, Bregy received about 100 text messages from students, including several safety tips his staff is investigating.
And Bregy's students surprised him in turn: "There has not been one single text message that has been inappropriate or abusive in any way," he said. "These high school kids are mature enough and are handling this much more effectively than I thought they would in the beginning."