Lidgerwood schools teach internet safety within curriculum

Posted September 19

— Years ago parents watched for the proverbial white van driving slowly through their neighborhood, offering a token candy or ice cream to tempt their children.

This symbolic white van has taken a new form of luring children — the internet — which is now in every school across North Dakota as it has become an important education tool, the Daily News ( ) reported. Administrators are tasked with keeping school children safe as they use devices that provide access to what is essentially an unregulated industry rampant with identity theft, scams and sexual predators.

Online safety is part of Lidgerwood Public School's curriculum since the school is part of a 1-to-1 initiative that puts Chromebooks in the hands of all high school students.

Hankinson does not teach a specific course, but does incorporate internet safety into classes. The school counselor talks about social media and texting to prevent cyber bullying, where people use social media to hurt others, said Superintendent Chad Benson. Because they are immature, children tend to get into trouble accessing sites they shouldn't, or saying and doing things on social media they shouldn't, he added.

Lidgerwood is a Google school. Part of that partnership incorporates a safe domain that controls student Google accounts and prevents them from accessing sites and material they shouldn't. That's the intent, but nothing is entirely foolproof, said Principal Jeremy Popp.

The school controls the domain and everything accessible through Google for school use, but that's only a small portion of what these computers can do. Students can still download social media apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to their Chromebooks, which cannot be controlled by the school's domain. Being proactive, the school has instituted a digital citizenship class, now in its third year, to all eighth graders to reinforce the cyber safety message.

Bruce Johnson teaches this class, which is taught spring semester. The curriculum was developed by Common Sense Media, which breaks the material down for elementary, middle and high school students. It can be accessed by teachers, students and parents looking for more information on cyber safety. Johnson talks to students about being good cyber citizens, don't cyber bully or use material they find on the internet appropriately, he said.

Johnson said he wishes this type of curriculum could be taught in every school because the lessons are life-long and technology isn't going away as it is so intrinsic to daily life.

"I think the kids are missing out on some information that would really help them in their life . There's a lot of good things out there, there's also a lot of negative things out there. With a little education, you can basically learn how to use that appropriately," he said.

Lidgerwood's handbook also has information about acceptable uses of internet to prevent misguided students from getting into trouble. Consequences can be as simple as removing the device from a student, limiting their access to the domain or even expulsion if the offense warrants the student's removal from school.

Popp is very aware keeping each Lidgerwood High School student under control is an impossible task.

"We realize we're not going to be able to police it, even in a school as small as Lidgerwood," Popp said, warranting a zero tolerance policy for any student being linked to something inappropriate. Popp said it isn't an administrator's job to determine what is appropriate and what isn't. "If your picture, your account, your name is linked to something . if we see you on it, we don't have any tolerance and there will be repercussions," he said.

It is a worry that students will misuse an educational tool given to them by the school. Popp said it's a matter of putting the cart before the horse on whether the school bears some responsibility in wrongs committed by students using their products.

"Kindergartners come into the building now knowing how to use tablets better than a lot of our staff do. It's never going to go away. Rather than trying to avoid it so we don't have to worry about it, we just have to do our best to educate while we use them so it doesn't happen, or at least stem as much of it as we possibly can," he added.

Maxine Ebel and Mikenzi Anderson, both 14, are Lidgerwood ninth graders who went through the digital citizenship class last year. They found it useful to help create parameters on how to properly use the Web and remain safe.

Mikenzi has had a smart phone for two years, so has instant access to the Web. She said the class helped create more awareness about internet dangers. Her parents also hammered the point home about using her phone correctly — or it will be taken away. So far, Mikenzi has held onto her phone.

She finds it surprising that people use electronic devices to pick on others. As far as she can tell, no one at Lidgerwood Public School has been subjected to cyber bullying because students are close and look out for one another, she said. Mikenzi has witnessed other teens attack one another on social media. She finds that perplexing.

"Why? Why do they do this? Why can't they all be friends?" she asked.

Maxine said that isn't the way of this world, which is where the digital citizenship class is so important to reach teens before they get caught up in improper behaviors. Technology isn't going away, so children need to know how to properly use it, she added.

The internet is so comprehensive it's impossible to touch on every aspect of danger children can access while surfing the Web. Since they grew up with tablets, smart phones and the like, it is such a part of their daily life. They don't understand it can hurt them as well, Benson said, specifically in the realm of social media, where predators often disguise themselves as teenage girls, so they can communicate with unsuspecting children.

"It's really hard to impress on kids, because kids nowadays don't know any different, and so they don't think it's a big deal to pick up a phone or iPad and chat with somebody. They just assume it's OK. It's kind of like there was a time when people would drive by in white vans and offer kids candy and ice cream and they would go over to the vehicle and get it," Benson added.

So parents and teachers spent a lot of time preventing this behavior through intensive education. Now educators spend a great deal of time teaching students about cyber safety because the "white van" has camouflaged itself. Predators don't need candy or puppies anymore, as children tend to believe the fraudulent material that is posted.

"That's where we're at with the internet. We have to teach them about stranger danger in a new way. You don't know who these people are on the computer so you have to be careful. Don't communicate with them. Don't tell them where you're at, where you live, how old you are," Benson said.

Today's task is to teach children to fear a person they have never met, but communicate all too frequently online, thinking every profile they come across is true. Experts say it's also popular with pedophiles who create fake, juvenile profiles and begin connecting with children all over the world who use the app. A list of apps that experts believe put children at risk for this type of situation include Kik Messenger, Meow Chat (which has a Hello Kitty theme), Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder, Blendr, Whisper,, Yik Yak, Poof, Omegle and Down.

Benson is a father, so protecting children is more than just a job. The Bensons have WiFi in their home and control how their younger children use electronic devices, which mostly are used to play games, he said. They must be in the living room, he added, so Benson and his wife can ensure they aren't surfing the Web unsupervised.

His teenage children have smartphones. He's not naive enough to believe they aren't accessing sites they shouldn't. He and his wife check the phones periodically to see how they are being used, he said. Some people call this an invasion of privacy. "I say I don't care. First of all, I pay for the phone. It's my phone. You're just using my phone. If you don't like it, that's fine, I will just keep the phone. You can either allow me to do that or you can not have a phone. It's that simple," Benson said.

"You're naive if you don't think the kids have an app on their phone that's called Target Shopping for instance, which can be a social media app that they're communicating and sending and receiving pictures, so it's not fool proof," he added.


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