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August 21, 2013

UCS students to learn how to be ‘digital citizens’

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

STERLING HEIGHTS — Cyberspace might not have borders or city limits, but Utica Community Schools will soon embark on a program to teach K-12 students to become good citizens on the Internet.

According to school district spokesman Tim McAvoy, UCS schools will introduce a digital citizenship program into the classroom that teaches kids the benefits and potential dangers of living in a world connected through technology. The program comes from a San Francisco-based group called Common Sense Media.

“Students are digital natives,” McAvoy said. “How you use the Internet, what they do on the Internet, has an impact on them right now.”

According to Superintendent Christine Johns’ blog, UCS students often have laptops, smartphones, iPads and interactive whiteboards at their fingertips. Many also have access to social media and websites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Through its website and educational materials, Common Sense Media explores digital citizenship issues, such as digital security, Web etiquette, the elimination of cyberbullying, privacy and other ethical matters.

For instance, a sample pledge that high schoolers and parents may sign has students promise to flag inappropriate content, set proper limits on media consumption and avoid using technology to cheat on school work.

Joyce Arbaugh, UCS director of secondary programs, said that although UCS piloted the program last year and had teachers review it, this will be the first time the district immerses the general student population into the program.

According to Arbaugh, the digital citizenship lessons begin as early as kindergarten for students, though they are handled in a common sense, age-appropriate way. The program will teach students when it is appropriate to communicate in online communities. She said the program will also teach students how to monitor their own “digital footprint” on the Web.

This year, parents will also be reminded to teach their children sound technology habits.

“We’ve made a commitment that, as we introduce more advances in technology for world-class learning, we’re also going to focus on working with families to teach them responsibility,” Arbaugh said. “And it’s extremely important that parents are involved in this process … as they prepare students for the fall and the school year.”

Learn more about Utica Community Schools at www.uticak12.org or at (586) 797-1000. Learn more about Common Sense Media and the digital citizenship program at www.commonsensemedia.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.