Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Cybersafety and the Home/School Connection: Parent Tech Institute

By on November 7, 2010

I recently had our middle school Parent/Teacher conferences, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that 99% 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 translator, was the 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 cybersafety and netiquette, making our responsibility to monitor children greater than ever because their world is now ever wider.

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 literacy. 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 to 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.

Therefore, schools must help empower parents to be the digital caretakers at home because we can only do so much. We must teach families simple tools to insist on, and have them extend the culture of cybersafety 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 am organizing a district Parent Tech Institute. I see 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 who will get blamed.

We’ve begun by doing the following:

1. Setting the date – Dec 8th. This will be just one workshop at the basic level, a computer 101 of sorts. From there, we will survey the parents who come to further determine the needs of a 102 class.

2. Ordering the translators – We have three labs on our middle school campus, so we’re planning 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. Preparing the curriculum – Our 101 class will literally start with the basics: How to navigate the district website, How to find your school’s website (for this will be offered throughout the whole district and all its schools), 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.

4. Promoting – Our Director of Ed Services has agreed to be our district point-man (well, woman) on this. She will be mailing home fliers in the three main languages promoting the event. Her biggest challenge right now is in finding the money to even do a district-wide mailing. Nevertheless, we agree that we clearly can’t promote it online because our target demographic is never on the computer. Additionally, phones only go so far. It has to be hard copy, and it can’t be entrusted to the kids to bring the message home intact. In addition, my principal will take it back to her principals’ meeting to get the administrators of the district on board.

5. Thinking 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’re trying 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?

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  1. Saracita
    November 7, 2010

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    As far as costs go, a simple one page (2 sided) handout might be enough to send home, with a condensed outline of the agenda that includes relevant website addresses – the first of which could be a site on the school website with screenshots or a video showing how to carry out the tasks outlined in the workshop.

    Can the various costs of this event be covered in Title 1 funds, if your school qualifies? I am not a Title 1 expert, but I know we have bought quite a bit of technology with our Title 1 funds.

    As for teacher compensation, there may be teachers willing to volunteer in order to improve school/home connections, and something like dinner bought for those teachers might be incentive enough. (Speaking as a teacher who volunteers for lots of after-school events and usually ends up hungry and cranky driving home…)

  2. Amy
    November 18, 2010

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    I think your idea is a wonderful one. I was an early elementary school teacher, so my students were not heavily involved in social networking and emailing while I was teaching. However, even my kindergartener son has now discovered kiddie websites on which he can add friends, chat, etc. Technology is developing at an astounding rate, and although I am policing him constantly (easier to do with a kindergartener than a middle schooler!), I’m a little nervous about how quickly things are changing and how easily he is navigating the tech world. I can’t imagine how helpless I would feel if I were completely unable to operate a computer, when it is so central to most teen and tweens’ lives now.

    A local parent in our area started a website that you might want to look at. It’s called Qwizzy’s World, and it’s actually pretty conducive to parents and students working together. It’s a quiz and test creation site, and it encourages parents to get involved in their children’s studies while allowing the students to show off their computer skills. A lot of teachers in our area are using it.

    Again, love your idea. What a great way to reach out to the community.

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