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By J.R. Williams - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- A group of Sherando High School students studying the town's communication efforts say social media could help engage younger residents and boost attendance at local events.
That was just one recommendation by four seniors who developed a survey delivered with the town's February water bills. The students recently presented their findings to the Town Council, and it was mostly good news for the elected leaders.
"If they're going to do something like Facebook, then they have to keep doing what they're also doing," said Chris Gray, 17, "because the people who are communicating with [the town] are happy with the way they're getting their information."
The students -- who graduate next month to pursue higher education -- are working as part of Jennifer McKannan's service learning government class. Their classmates are paired with other agencies, such as the Sheriff's Office and Parks and Recreation Department.
The survey response rate was less than expected. Out of about 800 mailed, 75 were returned. Some took an electronic version posted to the town's website, www.stephenscity.vi.virginia.gov.
The group hoped to receive at least 100 responses, but 75 proved enough to make a recommendation, they said.
According to the survey results, 92 percent of respondents either "agree" or "somewhat agree" that they are "kept informed about the town's plans and progress."
That's positive, the students said, but it only speaks to the satisfaction of a particular age group.
Seventy-six percent of respondents were age 46 or older.
Only 19 percent were between 31-45, and just 5 percent of respondents were age 19-30.
No one under age 18 responded -- probably because few people that age were cutting a check for a month's worth of water, the students said.
The results showed nearly everyone is online regularly, and that many get their news from local newspaper and television media outlets.
"We had to realize that in order to reach the younger demographic, we had to go more in depth than just [looking] at the results," said Carter Simmers, 17. "We had to analyze it, and work together to find out a solution."
The council was receptive to the recommendations and offered constructive criticism, said Shelby White, 17.
Town planner Brian Henshaw, who has been working with the students, said the town will explore implementing a Facebook page on the site, which is planned to be revamped this summer.
"The cost of adding a little bit more time to doing that is worth the benefit you might get, because now you're reaching an audience that's currently not being reached," he said.
Each student said they learned something different.
Gray said he gained a better understanding of how local governments operate. Simmers enjoyed the teamwork approach. Stephanos Diamantis, 18, said the structure of the project itself would apply to college studies.
White said she gained public speaking experience: "I've gotten better at speaking to larger groups of people," she said.