Danger lurking

HARLINGEN – Tread cautiously. Danger is everywhere.

Parents have issued this stern warning to children throughout human history. Wives, husbands, brothers and sisters have given one another the same advice, as have close friends.

Living in a world of danger and wonder has always been a reality people faced everywhere. However, that danger didn’t prevent them from climbing a mountain, swimming in a river, or simply walking to the next town. And people armed themselves for protection.

And so it is today as they venture into cyberspace. The Harlingen school district is taking rigorous steps to protect its students from the dangers lurking on the Internet while at the same time using it as a valuable tool.

“We have parameters of acceptable sites that our students can access through our network, and that’s something that we’re constantly monitoring,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development.

James Pearcy, director of technology, also monitors the sites visited by students. He said students are able to use a special email service offered by Microsoft that comes with filters.

Kortan said if her’s or Pearcy’s department spots a site that hasn’t been blocked, they review it closely for inappropriate content or communications with the student. Fortunately, the district has not discovered any inappropriate contact with the school’s students.

This success is especially significant this year when the district is in its final phase of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiative, which means any classroom can become a BYOD class. However, there’s more to a classroom becoming BYOD than just connecting to the Internet.

“Our library media specialists have an entire packet that they cover with the teachers, because we’re really trying to nurture that digital learning environment,” she said. “But before we do that, we also want to make sure that we’re going to couple it with being responsible with our kids and making sure that we’re protecting them digitally.”

Kortan described some “digital citizenship lessons” the district covers with its students.

“We drive home the message that digital learning is something that we really want to embrace,” Kortan said. “But with that comes a lot of responsibility both with the teacher, the parent and the student.”

Kortan said the district often refers to a website called Common Sense Media for direction on how to protect students while using their digital devices.

“They have a wealth of information on how to keep students safe in a digital learning environment,” Kortan said.

Teachers in a digital classroom emphasize the importance of smart choices while online, she said.

“We have a pledge that we work on posting throughout our district so that they’re constantly reminded that they make choices, and they can make good choices when using their tools,” Kortan said.

As people have always armed themselves against danger everywhere, so it is in the modern age. Students, teachers and anyone else can protect themselves from people surfing the Internet with ulterior motives. With great vigilance, teachers and administrators keep a watchful eye on their students’ online activities as they explore the world just beyond their fingertips.