Teaching digital citizenship at Vicenza Middle School
October 18, 2012
VICENZA, Italy - Promotion of digital citizenship and the enforcement of a district-wide disciplinary matrix are helping kids keep out of cyber-trouble at Vicenza Middle School.
"This is the first time we've ever had this kind of matrix and I'm really happy that it's here," said Debra Wilson, educational technologist at the middle school.
Eight weeks into the academic year, Wilson met with several parents in the VMS computer lab Oct. 1 to review the matrix and answer questions in the first of three outreach sessions to promote positive digital citizenship.
"This is the first year of the Internet usage agreement, but what I did was I went through the Internet usage agreement and I matched it up to the matrix," said Wilson. The matrix breaks down the exact consequences for specific violations by severity and number of infractions.
"They don't understand that it's not a private account, and this is a good time for them to get to understand because in high school that kind of stuff can happen, but now they'll know the consequences," Wilson said.
The scheme is based on a DoDEA-wide model which was researched, refined and provided to all middle and high schools in the DoDDS-Europe Mediterranean District, said Dr. Barbara Ferg-Carter, education operations manager for the district.
"There was too much variance among the schools and things were going awry. We had too much discrepancy," she said.
The matrix is very specific in describing proscribed behaviors and their remedial consequences, Wilson said. To clarify their rights and responsibilities, all students took training during the first week of school.
"We had each grade level volunteer one of their subject areas and it was 45 minutes to an hour. We went through everything: examples, all the things that could possibly come up, the what-if situations," she said.
"It was really clear and they felt really comfortable at the end of it. They had to sign that they had gone through the training. Every new student that comes in here, I meet with them. I go through the training, they sign their names saying that they've gone through the training and they know exactly what to do," Wilson said.
"It eases a lot of problems," said Ferg-Carter. "And of course with bullying - as with weapons, as with drugs - we have a no-tolerance policy. It's across the board for the 18 schools in our district."
Many of the issues that got students in trouble last year had to do with the spillover of social networking animosities from outside the school into behavior at school, said VMS principal, Dr. Julio Gonzalez.
"They start fighting or have inappropriate exchanges in here, and then Ms. Kabonick (the school counselor) will bring them in and find out there's been cyberbullying going on at home, that kind of thing," said Wilson.
Cristina Hargesheimer related having a difficult Facebook experience last school year with her daughter, presently a seventh-grader at VMS, who attended an Italian school then.
"I had to go to the polizia postale because she forgot her password, and a friend had it, and then I saw bad things. So I had to go over there and block that," she said.
But parents can find solid support in the Vicenza schools for taking control of the situation, said Gonzalez.
"There is a great training that Ms. Wilson put on the website about the dangers of social networking and cyberbullying," he said. The 16-page document can be read and downloaded from the VMS home page at http://www.vice-ms.eu.dodea.edu/.
VMS encourages parents to get involved, understand and exercise oversight over their children's online behavior, Gonzales said. Upcoming parent outreach sessions are scheduled for Nov. 5 at 12:30 p.m. and Jan. 17 at 6 p.m.
"Any questions, you can email us, you can email me," Wilson said. "We have lots of information. We want parents to be aware of what's going on."
"It's gotten better. The key is to engage them," said Gonzalez. "We're trying to engage them the best way we can with the technology available, in a fun way."
"I'm so glad that the Med District has come up with a comprehensive one for just the Internet usage. I think we're fortunate this year. Since we've done the training the kids feel informed and they know that the school accounts are monitored … they love it. They're like, 'I haven't had anything blocked, I haven't had to go in and do anything,'" said Wilson.
"I can count on one hand the number of suspensions we've had this year," Ferg-Carter said. "It doesn't happen very often. We're lucky here."
"I think it's really made a difference this year because I'm getting little or no problems with the issues that have come in the very beginning of the year. And it's out. The kids understand," said Wilson.