By Socorro Shiels | Superintendent, Sonoma Valley Unified School District
One of my closest friends has a son who is a wiz on the iPhone. He can find photographs stored on the phone and make a movie from them. It’s a talent he repeats on any phone without prompting. He is a natural. He is also just two years old. He doesn’t get screen time, he isn’t allowed to watch television, and yet – very intuitively – he is naturally inclined with his sweet chubby fingers to make the computer in that phone work for him. It’s quite amazing to watch, and it blows my mind as I think about how the growing mind absorbs so much. It also makes me reflect professionally on all that happened in the past month, and how we all protect our children from something that is so common in their world.
I am not a Facebooker, but many colleagues are – however I do find time to visit Pinterest and Instagram for the latest ideas about crafts and vegan food. I have a Twitter page as superintendent and frequently share the great things happening at our schools. We have a district Facebook page as a communication tool because so many families use it regularly. I take for granted what is out there on social media and the internet in general, because I know what I am interested in and find my way right there. But even as an educated adult, I can go down a cyber rabbit hole with just a number of clicks.
What this past month brought to light is that on a tool so many of us might use daily, we can never forget that there is also a seedy underbelly and many potential dangers that require constant and cooperative attention.
We learned again firsthand how social media creates its own world and drama. From cruelty to others, threats (valid or not), and incitement of bad behavior, unregulated social media usage can grow out of control. In this area, particularly with teens, we need the entire community’s help. We have computers used in school and the filters from the County Office of Education that generally work to filter words, but we do not control mobile phone lines and nearly every student has access to a phone, which nowadays means unfiltered internet access. That adage I always go back to, that it takes a valley, is true in cyber security and digital literacy as well. We need everyone’s help making sure students know the lasting potential damage and harm that can be done online and we need to teach them the ways to use agnostic tools for good.
We also unfortunately learned that our filters are not enough. As a vulnerable second grader was able to access adult content on YouTube, we learned that our filters stop certain words but images are not something filters address. Thanks to being informed by a parent, we were able to act swiftly across this classroom and across the district to immediately halt iPad usage while we investigated. The iPads used by our youngest students have a different management system than the Chromebooks we use for older students. We searched every iPad in the district for any breach of content and luckily, found it limited to the classroom in question. Other parents did share with site and district folks that other unsavory things have been visited and so we broadened our investigatory scope. We removed any ability to access any social media and YouTube from all the elementary technology and will not have it accessible in any form, including YouTube for kids, for our elementary students.
For every filter we upgrade to, there are unfortunately hackers figuring ways around to get in front of new audiences. Filters alone are not the answer, we need the help of parents and community as more eyes and ears. Therefore as an added security we are removing Safari from our iPads. We also need to instructionally determine what has academic value and how to best incorporate it.
We know that technology tools in math and reading for example, help students get very specific individualized instruction and can be a tremendous asset in building and advancing skills. It is a normal and required part of work life, and is something students must be prepared to responsibly use.
Additionally, using specific learning applications with some students also allows for small groups to work in different ways and supports classroom environments that meet the needs of many students. Technology is part of today’s learning, and we as educators must constantly revisit how to help students and teachers use the best of what it has to offer and limit any of the damage it may have the potential to contribute to.
We recently purchased software, Go Guardian, for the Chromebooks. This allows us to see every screen, and we will ensure that teachers and substitutes learn how to use this prior to using technology in the classroom. We are searching for this same type of software for the iPads. We will be relentless in winning the balance of technology as a tool and technology that might cause harm. We need every community member to help in this constant vigilance.
I deeply appreciate the feedback from the community on all of these issues – what I have known since before I even took the job is that the valley cares about the success of students in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. Together we will figure this out for the future of our children and this community. It is the only way.