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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Importance of Internet Safety

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

Earlier in the year, I had our middle school Parent/Teacher conferences, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that 99 percent of my students (most of whom are Title I) have a computer in the home. However, there was absolutely no oversight of what was going on with the computer, because the only person who even knew how to turn the computer on, many parents claimed through their translators, was their student. The parents knew nothing of the box in the kid's bedroom.

An online colleague of mine, Patrick Ledesma, recently reminded me of the "door to door" law that states it is the school's responsibility to keep students safe the minute they leave their front door until they return home at the end of the day. However, this law now seems to extend to cyber safety and netiquette, making our responsibility to monitor children greater than ever because their world is now ever wider.

The Problem

The unfortunate fallout of all this is that in an attempt to legally protect themselves, districts have put up aggressive firewalls that don't service the education of the child. Sites are blocked which could enable teachers to open up learning, and students are never asked to practice good decision making at school because there are no decisions to make. This becomes a greater problem when a student then goes home and jumps onto all those sites with her email address flirtykitty@aol.com and schools are then blamed for not educating students in better Internet safety. Furthermore, this perpetuates the myth in the student's mind that there is school life and then there is real life. Our schools must be permitted to better mimic the challenges that exist outside its walls in order to better help prepare our students for those decisions.

So I believe that one easy thing that we can do as a partner with our community is to help educate our parents. We are, after all, in the business of education, and we can't do this without them.

I once heard a child psychologist say that raising a child is like letting them walk the median of a very wide, 4-lane highway bridge. There are barriers on both sides, of course, making the child feel safe. But just imagine what it would it feel like if only one of those sides was missing? Would the student, even walking the double yellows of the bridge, have that same sense of security? Of course not. That's what's happening in today's schools with only one group trying to educate our children in Internet literacy. The school is trying, but many parents are not a part of this equation of learning. The students, therefore, are teetering in a 4-lane suspended highway with only one siderail.

Resolutions

Therefore, schools must help empower parents to be the digital caretakers at home because we can only do so much during the school day. We must teach families simple tools to insist on, and have them extend the culture of cyber safety to the homes. Parents must work hand in hand with schools if our students are to function in this digital world.

To help address this problem, I helped organize a district Parent Tech Institute. I saw the school as a way to help educate parents with little computer knowledge in how to enforce tech standards at home. Without them, we will most definitely fail, and unfortunately, it is the school that will get blamed.

We began by doing the following:

#1. Set the date This was just one workshop at the basic level, a Computer 101 of sorts. From there, we surveyed the parents who came to further determine the needs of a 102 class.

#2. Ordered the translators We have three labs on our middle school campus, so we planned on having three teachers presenting the same material, each with a translator in a different language. In our district, it will be held in English, Spanish, and Mandarin.

#3. Prepared the curriculum Our 101 class literally started with the basics: How to navigate the district website, How to find your school's website (for this was offered to parents throughout the whole district), How to set up a free gmail account, How to email your student's teacher, How to respond to an email, What is Facebook, How to set up basic parental controls. We took tips from Alan November and our Cybersmart curriculum for guidance.

#4. Promoted Our Director of Ed Services agreed to be our district point-man (well, woman) on this. She mailed home fliers in the three main languages promoting the event. Her biggest challenge was finding the money to even do a district-wide mailing because we all agreed that we clearly couldn't promote it online because our target demographic is never on the computer. Additionally, phones only went so far. It had to be hard copy, and it couldn't be entrusted to the kids to bring the handout home intact. Additionally, my principal took the information back to her principals' meeting to get other administrators on board.

#5. Thought about the miscellaneous Will we also have to provide child care for this event to really take off (more money)? Should we provide coffee, cookies, and other hospitable items (more money)? What should the parents leave with to remind them of what they've learned? How will be pay for the reproduction of these items? This year, the teachers are volunteering some of their time to participate in this service, and the Dir. of Ed Services is cobbling together some green card money to help us out, but if this is to continue, we cannot expect that to also be a tradition. How do our teachers get compensated for their time and efforts so that this does not become yet another past practice expectation of donated efforts?

We tried to think about every angle, but will this solve every problem that a tech savvy kid brings into the home? Of course not. Nevertheless, it will set an expectation of online behavior at home that currently many of our students don't already have. It'll help parents build up their side of the bridge, and that's a start.

Ever hosted such an event, and care to share? Or, more importantly, if your district hasn't sponsored one, what's to prevent you from starting?

Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Sandra Wozniak's picture
Sandra Wozniak
President, NJ Association for Middle Level Education

I know that you have written on the importance of digital citizenship and see where it might become a part of your curriculum for this. I start with 3 basic rules. http://goo.gl/RPchM

Toni Frantz's picture
Toni Frantz
Passionate about safe online learning.

Great post, Heather. And great idea! Sharing the importance of digital citizenship and online safety with parents is a necessity. I wish more schools did the same! Have you heard of My Big Campus? Its a free online tool that creates a safe, engaging, and collaborative learning environment. Accessible at school and at home, it helps foster 24/7 learning. Check it out and take a tour around Campus! http://www.mybigcampus.com/tour

Mrs. Santino's picture
Mrs. Santino
HEALTH AND PE ELEMENTARY

While we strive at every level to protect our students from the "web" and the inappropriate things that are on the web we should be educating them. Shutting down every site and restricting access does hinder the learning process. Some of these websites are very good learning tools, also students are not able to self monitor or regulate. As the students get older they will need the skills it takes to realize they are on a site the is not appropriate. The students will inevitable look at these sites (kids are curious and the more we restrict the more tantalizing it is), whether it is at their house or someone else's, but giving them the skills to "walk away" are key. I'm not saying open up every site, but we can't shut it all off!

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