The Onteora Central School District has rolled out a new curriculum and app to help students make good social media choices and to report bullying.
“We’ve been talking as a district, instructionally, in a variety of meetings and settings on how we can be more proactive, rather than reactive with social media issues with our students,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Stephanie Laffin at the March 8 Board of Education Meeting. “I wanted to frame that question around taking a look at our district mission, because our mission is to educate and nurture all of our children, and to create an engaging and healthy learning environment and contribute thoughtfully to a global community,” she said. “And the impact of social media certainly reaches far into our classrooms and our learning environment, whether that’s a remote learning environment or in-person learning environment. It is something that is present in our students lives 24/7.”
Laffin said the answer is not to turn off social media, but to enhance students’ opportunities.
With an app called Anonymous Alerts that can be installed on students’ smartphones or their school-provided Chomebook laptops, students can report bullying and negative activity anonymously. A link to download the app will be provided on the middle school and high school websites. Students, parents and community members can submit via the app and include an attachment with a screenshot or photo, Laffin said.
Student Government has placed flyers in accessible places with QR codes to download the app. “The idea behind this is it’s an additional layer of communication to amplify student voice to amplify parent voice and community voice. There’s lots of ways to reach school district staff. And this is an additional way to communicate,” she said.
Laffin stressed the app is not a substitute for 911. The app submissions will be monitored Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In addition to the app is the IROC2 curriculum from the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell phone Communication. “This is an award-winning curriculum developed to really provide some solutions [aimed] at preventing issues like cyberbullying, sexting, poor social media and at behaviors, and really help our students understand the risks of becoming a victim of cybercrime.”
The four-unit program begins with a student’s self-assessment. Topics include understanding the digital climate, defining digital cause, effect and consequence, digital permanence and legacy and developing digital citizenship and consciousness.
The district will pilot the program this year in grades 9-12.
“One of the things that I’ve heard from administrators who might encounter issues with students and their parents, sometimes parents simply say, I don’t know what to do. I don’t really understand this. I don’t really know what it is. I’m not sure how I can support it. So we’re thinking about how we can utilize this curriculum and discussing it to offer up wider discussions with parents,” Laffin said.
Board Vice President Emily Sherry praised the program, but questioned why it is not being rolled out in the middle school. “My concern is that 11th and 12th graders already feel, and probably ninth and 10th graders already feel like they have a solid handle on how social media works. And they’ve heard a lot of rhetoric around social media and what the dangers are,” she said.
“There’s definitely part of me, that feels like seventh and eighth graders are at the highest risk, and might need the information, in some ways more than the high school kids who have been now inundated for five or six years with social media by the time they’re reaching ninth grade.”
Laffin said that is a possibility after this year’s pilot period.
“So it’s possible, depending on this pilot, next year that we decide, hey, this is something that we want to expand into seventh and eighth grade and start it at the beginning of next year,” she said. “Those are certain certainly possibilities, I think, from just the scope, considering where we are at this point in the school year, and kind of where we’re seeing some specific issues that are reaching into the school,” she added.
Board to start meeting in-person
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive order allowing government bodies to meet remotely expires March 16. There is no word yet if it will be extended.
The board decided to start meeting in-person again beginning with the March 22 meeting. For the time being, the public will still be allowed to submit comments via email and correspondence will be read at each meeting.