South’s Got Mail!

Update as of Jan. 10, 2014

 Although the policy allowing student email went into effect on Jan. 1, students should expect to receive access to their email by the end of the month. The process has been delayed due to logistical issues, including the formatting of the email addresses and the process of students setting up their accounts.

By Radhika Viswanathan

Drawing by Gina-Gail Auslander
Drawing by Gina-Gail Auslander

Picture this: it’s the beginning of the year, and seniors are creating accounts on the Common App website. They are filling out background questions, choosing what colleges they are interested in and—if their accounts have not been mysteriously deleted—pausing before a seemingly simple field: email. Because when applying to colleges, [email protected] just is not appropriate.
Starting next year, seniors will no longer have to create yet another email for accounts such as Common App because they will have an official school email. These email addresses will be structured using the student’s name and the Great Neck domain. One example is [email protected] (is there a character limit?).
The email address that each student will receive on Jan. 1 is the final product of years of work. Over the past four years, Student Government (SG) has collaborated with school administration and the Board of Education to make student email a reality.
Student email was first listed as an SG goal in 2010, but it took a year before any real headway could be made. “We decided to get the ball rolling by setting up open meetings for students to discuss the importance of educational resources and how to advocate for them within the district,” said former student body president of 2011 to 2012 Zak Malamed, one of the first main forces behind student email, who continues to advocate for education reform.
Since then, the proposal has faced many challenges. The Board of Education was initially reluctant to allow such a huge change to occur. “There were rules saying that student email was ‘unsafe’ and a concern to the security of our district,” said senior and student body president Lelina Chang.
“People were nervous about it,” said principal Ms. Susan Elliott. “Especially when you think about cyber bullying and the lack of judgment that often comes with technology.”
Last year, SG made a major push for student email. With the help of Ms. Elliott and SG adviser Ms. Jane Callaghan, they created proposals to present to the Board of Education. “All the students worked hard to the point where the Board, Mr. Epstein, and Dr. Dolan were able to understand the implications of student email,” Ms. Elliott said.
The hard work paid off. “Last year, the student government board of South met with the Great Neck Public Schools Policy Board. It was the first time in history that the Policy Board had a physical meeting with students. They loved our examples, our counterarguments, suggestions for policy change, and sent it in for an agenda item for the Board of Education,” said Chang.
There were many factors that finally compelled the Board of Education to agree to the proposal. “There had been enough use of technology in the district, so the Board could see the sense of it and trust it. The combined effort of North and South was very persuasive, and having our students first talk to Dr. Dolan and then the Policy Board really put them on the right path for things to change,” Ms. Elliott said. “An unexpected factor was Hurricane Sandy. One of the few ways through which we could reach out to people was email, so I think it went up a lot of notches in people’s respect meters.”
Students have been extremely excited about the new development. Junior Jacob S. explained how the new system would change his life. “Instead of bringing a flash drive to school, it will be easier to access work that I need to show teachers or to print. It will also help me organize: Personal emails would go to one email address and school-related emails would go to another email address.”
Similarly, Chang said, “Freshman year, I saw this technology start as a proposal, and now as a senior, I’m finally seeing it become a reality. It’s just so amazing to see how much progress we made.”
Obtaining student email may seem like a huge step, but Malamed—founder of the organization Student Voice—is not satisfied yet. “Students should have full access to social media outlets in school. The negative connotation behind them stems from our reluctance to effectively use these tools for learning purposes. Even if we socialize on these platforms, it is a learning experience—heck, that’s what people do in the workplace too.”
Ms. Elliott also has high expectations for the future role of technology in school. “When current students come back and visit, I think there will be a lot of technology embedded in school in a way that is now more experimental.”