District 47 eighth-graders guide peers on online safety
For many kids, getting advice about online safety from their parents can end up going in one ear and out the other, but hearing it from their peers may have a greater impact, say educators at Crystal Lake Elementary District 47, where a student-led program is teaching middle schoolers how to safely navigate the digital world.
This month, District 47 eighth-graders are helping guide their younger peers about internet safety and digital citizenship through Project B3 -- which stands for "Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Kind."
"Be Smart" is about protecting one's online image or digital footprint. "Be Safe" is about protecting privacy and personal information. "Be Kind" raises awareness of cyberbullying. The goal is to help students understand that what they post online is permanent and can come back to haunt them when they apply to colleges or jobs.
"It can affect your future," said Meg Norten, 13, an eighth-grade student program leader at Lundahl Middle School in Crystal Lake. "I think it's important to really secure a firm foundation and their knowledge of what happens when you post things on social media ... that could get you suspended or in trouble. We've heard from adults our whole life. It's a little more believable because it's coming from people who use it themselves."
District 47 is among roughly 20 suburban school districts, including Cary Elementary District 26, Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, Fox River Grove District 3 and Lake Zurich Unit District 95, to adopt Project B3.
It stems from a program originally created to educate parents about digital responsibility, said Matt Batt, of Cary, Project B3 co-founder.
The nonprofit now provides the curriculum for free to school districts. It is supported by CDW Corp. and grants from various foundations.
"It's constantly being updated," Batt said. "We are looking to expand throughout northern Illinois and the greater Chicago area."
At District 47, the program's launch is linked to the rollout of personal Chromebooks for all 2,700 middle schoolers three years ago.
"We really needed to have a digital citizenship component to that," said Dave Jenkins, District 47 assistant superintendent of technology.
Eighth-grade student leaders were chosen for "being responsible" and trained on how to deliver the message to peers, as well as district third- through fifth-graders. This year, District 47 partnered with students from Cary-Grove, Prairie Ridge and Crystal Lake South high schools who created a series of videos on online safety, a digital footprint, and cyberbullying shown to all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
"It's more effective than adults presenting that message, because they are living it every day," Jenkins said. "We are seeing a rise of students with anxiety, depression and addiction to technology. We just try to teach kids to have a balanced life."