The Internet is a dangerous place, especially for a child.
Hall County Schools are developing ways to teach students safe behavior online. Administrators, teachers and staff from the district office have spent months developing an age-appropriate Internet safety and awareness course for students.
“The goal here was to provide the tools for our students to be safe and responsible with all of their online activities,” said Steve McDaniel, director of student services. “It’s a major undertaking.”
Thus far, four separate units have been developed for four different age groups. Kristi Crumpton, teacher at Mount Vernon Exploratory School, developed programs for kindergartners through second-graders and third- through fifth-graders.
“This course was designed to be teacher-led,” Crumpton said. “One of the things we really want to focus on at the kindergarten level is building a strong foundation for these students. We want to instill in them what it means to be responsible, courteous, to have etiquette online and how to be safe.”
Crumpton said the concern with the Internet is children who are 5 years old can be exposed to the same things as children who are 12 years old.
“There are a lot of things that children today can be exposed to, even at the youngest level, that can be a little shocking to some of us,” she said.
The content of the course varies by age. The kindergarten through second-grade course does not deal with social media, but it does have a module called “what is the Internet?”
“You know, little kids today think anything that’s on the Internet is real,” Crumpton said. “What we focus on there is teaching them about sources and things like that.”
At the third to fifth-grade level, students are taught to avoid online strangers, online gaming, username and password information and more. The middle school unit, still in development, will address content specific to middle-schoolers, and at the high school level, students will take interactive guided lessons about sexting, cyber bullying, leaving a digital footprint and more.
Becca Hamby, East Hall High School media specialist who piloted the high school course, said the course starts with an understanding of “living connected.”
“These students are online probably 80 percent of their day,” she said. “They connect with people online, so we talk about safety in that area, and we talk about what is oversharing and how to not overshare their lives.”
Crumpton said the course is not just about what to avoid, but about proper online procedure. She said they will incorporate email etiquette into the course as well.
“We want to bring into awareness that email is different than a text,” she said. “So you don’t use your abbreviations, slang language, things like that.”
The course is slated to begin in January, though Superintendent Will Schofield said parents are always allowed to opt out.
“We believe we have an obligation to take every child in this district — obviously apart from those parents who opt out for their children, which they always have the right to do,” he said. “But we know a lot about the Internet, about how children are using it, and about how many of them, when they’re in their 20s look back and say, ‘Gosh, I wish I hadn’t done that.’
“We just feel we have a real obligation to empower them with information in terms of how to use the Internet positively.”