In a time when almost every youth is equipped with a tablet, phone or computer at their fingertips, many could say that prevention of digital bullying is a seemingly impossible task. However, it is a task that one local school system is taking very seriously.
Warsaw Community Schools is working to address cyberbullying and Internet integrity at its root: the digital user.
Instead of simply monitoring all content utilized by students through the Warsaw Community School’s servers, the school is attempting to educate both students and parents on both the positives and negatives associated with the digital world.
“The majority of bullying issues actually start with technology,” stated WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert. “It is kind of scary, but there is always a pro and a con with all the new technology that is out there and we see that really as a joint responsibility … [we are looking] to help educate parents because sometimes, coming from a different generation, parents are not always up on everything that is going on with technology.”
The school corporation is preparing to launch its one-to-one initiative this fall, supplying iPad minis to all WCS sixth-grade students that will be utilized throughout their middle school experience and possibly beyond (see related).
According to WCS Chief Technology Officer Brad Hagg, iPads and all related school software will be equipped with a content safety filter via the corporation’s server as well as each individual student’s Apple ID, which enforces age-appropriateness on application downloads. Hagg noted that whether at school or at home all content accessed via students’ iPads will filter through the school corporation’s server.
“At all times we do like to pass policies that award students who are using it (technology) properly and move forward, instead of just governing for the worst case scenario,” explained Hagg. “We just don’t want to restrict things overly in an effort to crack down on the worst cases in a way that would prevent the students who are doing positive things to take up these positive practices. We want to focus on enabling them to take up these great educational opportunities so they can still flourish.”
Though safety filters are in place for school related devices, many students are still able to access the Internet and digital devices at home. Because of this, WCS is also working to combat cyberbullying through education of parents too. Parents and students will receive information on safe and appropriate use during a special orientation. Hagg also noted that through an internet integrity coalition of community members and technology officers from area schools, further instruction may be provided in the future via news and radio organizations.
“We are focusing on how to better educate parents,” explained Hagg. “We do a lot of it at school, it is federally mandated that we teach digital citizenship and that we give students strategies about keeping information private online and how to stay safe online. We really feel when kids get here, we provide enough measures to educate them on responsible use of technology. But when they get back home, they may have a lot more access of content maybe parents don’t know they are accessing and we are working hard to provide education.”
Hoffert noted students are also working together on the peer level to prevent bullying. WCS schools participate in organizations called “Dream Counsels” to ensure that an environment of friendliness, hope and confidence can be built for all students.
Though the corporation is working to foster a safe and secure environment for students, measures are also in place should an issue arise. Amy Sively, director of Human Resources and past WCS principal, as well as Hoffert noted teachers and administrators are trained to respond immediately to a bullying complaint logged by a student or parent. Sively said students are encouraged to report a bullying instance immediately. For students who may not feel comfortable reporting a problem to a teacher or staff member, bullying hotlines are set up for several of WCS’s schools and parents are supplied the numbers during their child’s school orientation.
“The majority of our students do the right things every single day, and our policies are set up to deal with the negative things that do happen,” concluded Hoffert.
To view WCS’s bullying policies, click here.