A new program aimed at teaching students how to be responsible on the web has made its way to Seguin.

The Digital Citizenship curriculum was created by San Francisco-based non-profit organization Common Sense, which has worked together with Niagara Cares — the philanthropy division of Niagara Bottling Company — to bring the students of Seguin Independent School District a crash course in online ethics.

“We were contacted by Common Sense because Seguin ISD is in a city with a Niagara Bottling Company,” Seguin ISD Director of Digital Learning Randy Rodgers said. “And they have worked together to provide full curriculum and full support in terms of professional development, whether its parent meetings or whatever we wanted to do for their Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum.”

The curriculum is tuned towards students ranging from K-2 all the way to seniors in high school, and varies in complexity as grade levels increase, Common Sense Senior Director of Education Programs Kelly Mendoza said.

“We define it as thinking critically, behaving responsibly, and participating ethically in the digital world,” she said. “So it’s not just internet safety, but it’s a combination of critical thinking and responsible behavior.”

The way the 73 lessons are delivered varies.

“I would say maybe about a third of the lessons include video,” Mendoza said. “The rest of them, we have activities that help students take perspective and think about the potential impacts of their actions or outcomes.”

Each lesson is from 40 to 50 minutes and is more of a traditional lesson plan with six lessons per grade level, Mendoza said.

“So that’s a little less than six hours over an entire school year,” she said. “Some schools may roll it out over a couple of months, and some address one topic per month. We’ve seen it done in a variety of ways.”

The course began in more than 80,000 schools across the country at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

At Seguin ISD, Digital Citizenship is only taught at the elementary level but plans are in the works to expand the curriculum to the high school and middle school campuses, Rodgers said.

“The lessons are implemented through our technology applications classes,” Rodgers said. “All the kids that have gone through the tech apps classes at our elementary campuses have received a certain number of trainings, lessons, and activities on digital citizenship.”

Students in classrooms today are on the frontier of a new type of social interaction, and they must be prepared for the unique problems that it presents, Mendoza said.

“We still hear consistently that bullying and cyberbullying that spills over online is a pain point for schools,” she said. “We also have privacy issues as kids are sharing things about themselves, whether it’s private data or information that may be inappropriate to share online like party photos or things that could come back and haunt them later.”

The curriculum continues to evolve — including things like screen time, Mendoza said.

“So we have many lessons talking about how to create a healthy balance and manage the media in your life amongst all the other things you are doing,” Mendoza said. “We also have a topic around news and media literacy that teaches them how to address news literacy and how to critically evaluate sources to get credible information.”

The curriculum has been positively received at Seguin ISD by students and educators alike, Rodgers said.

“I think it’s really good,” he said. “They (Common Sense) have made it very age-appropriate and user-friendly. They’re hitting a lot of hot topics at different times, whether it’s social media use or privacy — which is a big issue right now. They’ve continued, especially in the last nine months or so, to really improve the way the curriculum is laid out and how easy it is to use.”

For more information on Common Sense or Digital Citizenship, visit www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship .

Joe Martin is a staff writer for the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at joe.martin@seguingazette.com .

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