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Georgia College students apprise local teens about online risks

Kristen Warren, Jack Longmore and Grant Peagler speak to Creekside Elementary School students.

Baldwin County’s Creekside Elementary fourth and fifth-grade students explored the dangers of cyberbullying and other scenarios thanks to a partnership with Georgia College’s Women in Technology (WIT) and the Association of Information Systems (AIS).

“It’s such a crucial age group as a lot of these kids are getting online for the first time, and many of them are starting to use social media platforms,” said Heather Reynolds, president of WIT. “It’s something we want to tackle early on. If we can inform them at this age group about these topics before they get into middle school and high school, we can prevent cyberbullying, stalking and other issues of online safety.”

Cyberbullying is even more prevalent among high school students, according to Reynolds.

“Kids start bullying in school, and then they’re doing the same thing online, so the ones being bullied in school are taking bullying from school home with them,” she said. “They can’t escape it. Through this program, we let these students know that it’s not ok to treat someone bad in person or online.”

Sixteen volunteers from both AIS and WIT coached 310 fourth- and fifth-grade students through various scenarios.

“We want them to know what is appropriate and not appropriate to share on the internet, like pictures that they wouldn’t want future employers or their parents to see,” said Reynolds. “We also have fun videos, worksheets and coloring pages that demonstrate that what they say, share and do online can have an impact on their friendships, families and futures.”

The students are taught to be very cautious when it comes to strangers online.

“If someone online is making them feel uncomfortable, or if someone is trying to meet up with them in person, we encourage them to let a guardian, parent, or a teacher know about it,” she said.

WIT and AIS volunteers speak to fourth and fifth grade students in their computer classes.

“It’s a good age group to hit because they learn how to access email, and a lot of them are just getting into social media,” said Reynolds. “These kids need to be aware of the bad things that can happen online, even among friends and people they know.”

WIT and AIS volunteers and Dr. Joy Godin also spoke with parents and teachers during parent-teacher night.

“Many of the parents who attended said they need to have this conversation with their kids about online safety before they get too old and aren’t willing to have an open conversation,” she said. “Sometimes it’s tricky for them to start that conversation, but the kids need to feel comfortable in talking with a teacher or guardian about what happens online.”

Considering WIT is new, the organization lacks funding and can only provide volunteers to help at Creekside Elementary School. But Reynolds hopes to change that once WIT gets funding, which could be in a little over a year. Once this happens, she hopes to target different age groups in Baldwin County by spreading the word about online safety while making a difference through technology.

“I hope the students learn the world online isn’t always as nice as it appears to be, because there are bad people online who want to hurt them,” Reynolds said. “I also hope that they realize that sometimes when we don’t think about it, we can hurt other people’s feelings without meaning to. They need to think."

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