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Hall County earns certification for teaching students online safety
0622ELEARNING4
Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science student London Arellano and classmates log into computers Wednesday morning in the school's computer lab during a summer study program. Hall County has recently had all of its schools certified in a program that promotes safety from predators, bad websites and the like. The program included training of students and teachers.

As someone who works daily with students who are using technology more often in a variety of ways, Tricia Barry didn’t hesitate when asked her biggest concern for children in an online world.

“I think the biggest concern is gaming, honestly,” said Barry, media specialist at Friendship Elementary. “The gaming systems now are online, and when they are playing with people, they don’t realize they’re complete strangers. They’re just like, ‘I’m just playing a game with them.’ But with these systems now, you can talk in the living room and they can hear every word you’re saying.

“It’s hard to get across to them at such a young age,” she added. “You can think you’re not giving them any personal information, but in the middle of playing that game you’re saying stuff, you’re talking to your friends playing with them on the couch and all of this information just comes out. Before you know it, they’re at the same place that you are an hour later and they’re going to try to take you or hurt you or do something to you.”

Barry is one of 120 educators in Hall County — most of them media specialists and school counselors — who have completed certification through Common Sense, a nonprofit organization that provides curriculum to help educators and students in the digital world.

Hall County Schools has also been approved as a Common Sense-certified District for Digital Citizenship, recognizing the school district’s efforts in teaching digital citizenship to students. More than 100,000 schools across the country use the Common Sense materials, according to a news release from the school district.

Greg Odell, e-learning specialist for Hall County Schools, said all schools in the district also met the criteria to be certified by Common Sense.

“We provided the training to all of our media specialists and school counselors in the school district for this program,” Odell said. “The effort was led by the media specialists and counselors, and they had to meet certain requirements to qualify for school certification, as well as educator certification.”

Schools were taught lessons in digital citizenship with a variety of topics including creating powerful passwords, protecting private information, cyberbullying, which keywords get the best results, digital media’s place in our lives, protecting against scams and risky online relationships. Odell said some schools worked with three grade levels and others offered the training to two grade levels.

“It’s going to empower them to think about what they’re doing in this digital age, to be safe, be responsible, and we’re trying to make an effort to show our community that we want to educate our families on how to be successful in this new world we’re all living in,” Odell said.

While Common Sense provided the curriculum for the training, Odell said the instruction also used Nearpod, an interactive classroom tool, to help students learn through polls, quizzes and drawing exercises designed to enhance learning.

Aaron Turpin, assistant superintendent for technology in Hall County Schools, said this and other similar training are important for students as they spend time online..

“Ethical digital citizenship is paramount in the world we all live in,” Turpin said. “Students are accessing digital resources at school, and all of our networks are filtered. However, when students access digital resources at home, most home networks are not filtered. We wanted to make sure that students had an understanding of what it meant to be a good, safe citizens in the digital world.”

Turpin said the past year was the second year of the initiative to educate students on ways to make best use of the internet safely.

“Going forward, we are focusing on one grade level at each school for a deeper dive and for a refresher dive because things change quickly in the world of technology and some of the strategies kids need to use need to be updated,” he said.

Barry said Friendship worked with second-grade and fourth-grade students during the past school year. Classroom teachers at the school were also asked to participate with their students.

“It’s great information,” she said. “Through these discussions, more things came up and it gave us a better idea of what these kids are facing. We did hit highly on chat rooms because they will talk to people and even type things and think it’s no big deal.”

She said the training is not a one-time educational activity.

“I think it needs to be repetitive just like with any kind of teaching,” Barry said. “With math, you build from one year to the next and you keep repeating a little bit from the previous year and you add more to it. I definitely think it is something that they need to be exposed to every year, not only to try to remember and to keep it fresh in their minds, but because the technology is changing so quickly.” 

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