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The City Journals

Oakdale awarded digital safety grant from National PTA, Facebook

Jul 08, 2019 02:36PM ● By Julie Slama

U.S. Representative John Curtis recently spoke at Oakdale Elementary about internet use at the school’s digital safety community event. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

First-grader Lewis Higginson came to Oakdale Elementary one spring night.

“I’m learning more about how to be safe on the internet,” he said, adding that he does homework games online.

Joining him was his fourth-grade brother, Miles, who likes to do coding and Scratch, and his mother, Natalie.

“I want to have to become more conscious and aware of digital responsibility,” she said. “It’s something we talk about often — weekly, daily — we can’t assume they know, but we have to give them the tools to help.”

The Higginson family was hoping to learn from Oakdale’s digital safety community event, which was funded by a $1,000 grant from the National PTA and Facebook. Oakdale was one of 200 school PTAs nationwide selected to receive the grant through the PTA Connected initiative.

The internet night not only brought families together, but also educational, governmental and community leaders.

U.S. Representative John Curtis pointed out that Oakdale lies in District 3, the youngest in the United States, with an average age of 26, and many are fluent in technology. He said it is important that youth learn how to be safe online.

State representative Steve Eliason encouraged parents to “hang out with your kid, ask your kid questions and learn what they’re experiencing as they work their screens.”

While many students use devices for homework, others may find it a way to communicate with grandparents across the country. He encouraged parents to learn what their children are doing as it may not be just playing games, he said.

“It’s about balance. Kids use phones, laptops, tablets a lot. It’s a way to communicate today, but it still means we need to keep our eyes open,” Eliason said.

He also encouraged families to download the SafeUT app, which provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program. He said it has proven to save lives as well as be used to report acts of kindness.

“We don’t always know the impact children have — both good and ill — as technology is developing as we’re learning. But we can teach our children how to behave online and use technology to protect our children,” Eliason said.

Board of Education Vice President Amber Shill supported the event.

“It needs to be a constant discussion for parents and kids to discuss internet safety,” she said, adding that her own family recently talked about internet safety and screen time at the dinner table. “The more information people know, the better.”

Principal Lori Jones said representatives from National PTA and Facebook offered to come lead a panel discussion before breakout sessions. The discussion brought up determining the proper amount of screen time, which could be done by a family media contract. 

Families also learned about a bullying prevention hub that could be a resource for those seeking support and help in issues related to bullying and other conflicts; a parent portal with tips and links to help learn about Facebook; a youth portal to guide students about Facebook privacy and safety information from peers their own age; safety on Facebook while connecting with friends and family; and a digital literacy library to help youth build skills needed to safely use digital technology.

Links also were given for more safety information, including www.facebook.com/safety.