Digital Leader Summit to teach smart online behaviors to Naperville-area kids

Posted1/31/2019 5:20 AM

So much education takes place on the internet these days, as students connect through laptops and tablets to complete their schoolwork.

But with a new event, one Naperville nonprofit is changing it up -- offering education about the internet and how students should use it responsibly.

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With the new Digital Leader Summit, the youth advocacy organization KidsMatter will give nearly 300 elementary and middle school students the chance to learn about smart digital citizenship and ways they can protect themselves and their peers online.

The summit, set for Feb. 5 and 6, will involve pre-chosen students from Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204. Teachers will instruct small groups of students in lessons such as "Secure Your Secrets," "It's Cool to be Kind" and "Share with Care," drawing curriculum from the Google "Be Internet Awesome" series and the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media, which provides unbiased information about media sources used by youths.

"Once these students complete the program, they are certified 'upstanders' in their digital community," said Sherilyn Hebel, director of programs at KidsMatter.

Those kids will be asked to teach the skills they learn to peers in fourth through eighth grade. KidsMatter leaders, including Executive Director Kamala Martinez, hope students learn to avoid or report the online hazards of cyberbullying, harassment, improper solicitation, releasing too much personal information or illegally using written content, photos, music or videos.


"These things are happening at a much earlier age, and by the time you reach high school, we're almost too late," Martinez said. "We're trying to teach them to be positive digital citizens in elementary school so that when they reach high school, they're smart enough that they don't put things out on the internet that will hurt them with their college applications, their internship applications or even their job applications."

Educators in districts 203 and 204 also value the lessons the Digital Leader Summit will provide. That's why each district is sending several staff members, including teachers, technology specialists, library directors and administrators, to the summit each day to serve as facilitators.

"We know providing opportunities for students to learn about being safe on the internet and mentoring them on how to help develop a positive digital footprint are important priorities," Jill Hlavacek, director of learning and innovation for District 203, said in a written statement.

The Digital Leader Summit replaces the former "Your Digital Footprint Matters" video contest, in which students were invited to produce a video about why it's important to act responsibly online. KidsMatter leaders said the contest reached certain tech-savvy kids, but it didn't get the internet smarts and safety message to all in Naperville-area classrooms.

"I wanted to redesign this program to empower students to realize their leadership position to combat cyberbullying and to educate them on creating a positive digital footprint," Martinez said.

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