LCUSD program stresses digital citizenship

As La Cañada Unified School District continues its mission to put technological devices in the hands of each and every student, officials are working to develop strategies for keeping kids safe and respectful while navigating a vast digital playground.

On Tuesday, LCUSD Tech Director Jamie Lewsadder and a handful of students and teachers on special assignment (TOSA) updated school board members on a new digital citizenship program rolled out this year at all school campuses.

The program focuses on instilling in students "digital citizenship," an ethical standard intended to guide the responsible use of technology both inside and outside of the classroom. It also aims to help students develop "digital literacy," or the ability to understand, evaluate and synthesize multiple online sources, delineating between credible information and outdated — or potentially inaccurate — space junk.

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Because most parents and teachers were not born into a digital world, they may be unfamiliar with or unaware of some of the challenges and pressures young people face from doing school work and interacting with others online, explained high school TOSA David Paszkiewicz.

"The minute students grab a tablet, phone, laptop or computer they leave the living rooms, they leave that safe place, and they become citizens of the digital world," Paszkiewicz said. "We cannot protect them from everything they're going to encounter out in the world, so our job … is protecting them and teaching them how to deal with and handle everything that they encounter."

For students in kindergarten through second grade, this means introducing videos and short lessons intended to lay the groundwork for work that will come later.

As students mature, they are exposed to as many as four lessons per year where instructors use a curriculum developed by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit whose website, commonsensemedia.org, serves as a clearinghouse for information on safe, responsible media use.

By seventh grade, students have learned the digital citizenship basics and are ready learn how to research and evaluate websites so they can use online tools for school work, explained tech TOSA Lindsay Staley.

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"We are hoping by the time they come to seventh grade they already know how to navigate in a responsible and kind way, so they are ready for those more literacy-based lessons," Staley said.

While promoting the responsible use of technology in schools is the program's immediate focus, Tuesday's presenters acknowledged the effect such lessons will have on students' lives after they leave La Cañada Unified.

For example, 27% of universities look at applicants' social media profiles, the New York Times reported last year, while 35% of college entry decisions are negatively affected by what admissions officers find. Those numbers only increase as students enter the workforce, Staley said.

"We feel like the game is changing every single day — we try to invent something to keep them safe and something else emerges," she said. "Our job is to educate kids on how to keep themselves safe."

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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