Catholic schools turning to automated phone messaging

Nine schools in the Catholic Diocese of Savannah — including three in Middle Georgia — are turning to an automated phone messaging system to notify parents of emergencies.

Saint Peter Claver Catholic School and St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Macon and Sacred Heart in Warner Robins are all using SchoolReach phone systems this school year.

It allows educators to record a voice message and the message automatically gets sent to homes or parents’ cell phones.

“This is a new system we’re putting in,” said Saint Peter Claver principal Sister Ellen Marie Hager, who said the phone messaging system was being installed at their school next week. In the event that bad weather forces school to close or a traffic accident causes delays, “parents wouldn’t have to call the office.”

Saint Peter Claver, which has about 250 students, pays about $4 per student to use the service, Hager said.

Sacred Heart in Warner Robins, a private Catholic school that serves about 200 students in pre-K through eighth grade, already was using the system this past school year.

Often parents don’t have time to look online for updates on the school’s Web site and may not get letters sent home with their children, said Cathy Harmon, an administrative assistant at the school.

They use the messaging service to send out reminders about field days to school meetings, she said.

“It’s been a tremendous help getting the word out with one phone call,” she said.

St. Joseph’s is switching to the SchoolReach phone system this fall too, said a school official.

More than 4,000 schools nationally use the service, said a company spokeswoman.

While there are 21 schools in the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, about half chose to use the communication tool. The Macon and Warner Robins schools are part of the Savannah diocese.

“When we first learned about the benefits and cost efficiency associated with using the SchoolReach system, we immediately presented it to our diocesan administrators,” said Superintendent of Schools Sister Rose Mary Collins. “More than 50 percent of the diocesan schools quickly decided to purchase the services for the 2009-10 school year.”

Also in the midstate, Houston County public schools in Warner Robins use a similar automated phone messaging system to communicate with parents for emergencies and upcoming events, said school system spokeswoman Beth McLaughlin.

Bibb County public schools do not use this type of automated system.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.