With school back in session for the 2016-17 academic year, Katy ISD officials continue to emphasize digital citizenship as an essential complement to its core programs, said Jay Sonnenburg, digital learning manager for the district.
Sonnenburg said in addition to hosting a digital citizenship day in October and various digital citizenship events throughout the year, KISD participates in Common Sense Media’s K-12 digital citizenship curriculum.
The eight-category curriculum provides resources for students, parents and teachers and supplements Common Sense’s mission of educating those same groups on appropriate technology usage and online safety, said Louisa Sullivan, the company’s education community manager.
“We’re all about ensuring that students have the tools they need to thrive in today’s 21st century,” Sullivan said.
One key element to Common Sense’s business model is certifying educators, schools and school districts, she said. Founded in 2012, the certification program has grown rapidly and now has certified educators in all 50 states and 21 countries, she said.
In order to become Common Sense certified, educators and schools must fulfill various criteria. Educators must—among many requirements—register with the organization, partake in curriculum training, educate parents and meet minimum digital citizenship instruction hours with students.
Schools must meet several of the same requirements in addition to creating a unique digital citizenship plan, providing professional development opportunities and completing a teacher worksheet that specifies which educators taught digital citizenship lessons.
KISD began with nine certified schools in its inaugural 2014-15 school year and has grown to 16 certified schools in 2015-16.
Sonnenburg said KISD’s next goal will be to become certified as a district by Common Sense. Certification requires at least half of a district’s schools are certified individually and that the district meets a variety of other components related to student instruction, professional development and parent outreach.
“It’s really challenging for a district our size, though,” he said.
Sonnenburg and Sullivan said parental knowledge of questionable applications and websites and awareness of their children’s online activities are critical to keeping students safe.
In addition to advocating peer-to-peer precautions, Sonnenburg said it is crucial for educators to maintain a professional presence when interacting with students online. His advice comes in light of allegations against a Katy High School art teacher, Robert Milton, who was arrested July 29 for allegedly engaging in an improper relationship with a student, according to a police report filed by the KISD Police Department. The alleged relationship, police officials said, reportedly began via Instagram contact between the two.
“I think the biggest thing that teachers have to know is to keep personal [accounts] personal and business [accounts] business,” Sonnenburg said.
Sonnenburg and Sullivan agreed it is important to understand the risks associated with digital media. But, they both said technology is a fundamental part of the educational experience.
“We’re doing a huge disservice to our community if we don’t incorporate technology into our daily lives; into our education,” Sonnenburg said. “Our kids need to understand how to operate in that world,” he said. “We highly support integrating technology into the classroom.”