Page 28 - THE Journal, March/April 2019
P. 28

Little wonder. In 2018, Pew Research Center found that “fully 95 percent” of teens (those between 13 and 17) have access to a smartphone, and nearly half reported that they’re online “almost constantly.” In a separate survey, about two-thirds of parents (65 percent) reported concerns about the amount of time their teens spent in front of screens; and 57 percent said they set screen time restrictions one way or another.
Kyle Berger, chief technology officer for Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Texas started his school system’s parent technology academy last school year when he realized the extent of the disconnect between district parents in regards to technology and “the world their kids were living in.” Any time he ran into a parent,
it wasn’t uncommon for him to be pelted for advice on how best to filter a student’s personal phone, what he thought about a specific app, or what kind of computer the child should have at home.
Rather than continuing to answer those questions one-on-one, he decided to help the school community come together to have those conversations “as an expanded partnership.” Now, once a month, the CTO convenes an hour-long session at one or another of the schools in his 14,000-student district. It has quickly become apparent what types of sessions the parents are most anxious to attend.
What Parents Really
Want to Know
While early plans included coverage of basics, such as the student information system and understanding Google Docs, it’s the scary stuff that attracts the crowds.
A presentation on “Top Apps Parents Need to Know” consistently draws 200 parents, so Berger has begun delivering it quarterly. The focus: those apps that have inappropriate and unmoderated content, many of which can lead to cyberbullying. “Often, these apps are anonymous and will encourage students to behave in a way you have never seen before. When students use an app in anonymous mode, they tend to behave badly. They are also more prone to bullying and predators,” he tells parents.
And because the list is constantly evolving, “We just keep updating the content and having the conversation,” he said. (At the top of the stack for the latest version of the presentation are Snapchat, Boo!, WhatsApp, imo, LivU and kik.)
None of the apps are allowed on the student devices in this 1-to-1 district, but that doesn’t mean they don’t show up on students’ personal phones, Berger pointed out. “We see the trends before \[parents\] might see them at home.”
Another popular presentation covers “internet safety at school and home.” The topics there include online risks for children, including content, online sexual solicitation and cyberbullying. As Berger has pointed out to parents, “Nowadays with bullying,
it’s connected to the kids 24/7, so there’s
no way to escape it.” To help them help their children, he makes sure to talk about “free and great tools” to help them filter the internet at home, specifically, OpenDNS Family Shield and OpenDNS Home, both from Cisco.
Sometimes Berger hears from his peers that he’s just opening a “can of worms” every time he tells his parents about the challenges of running technology in his schools. Their message to him: “What if they start to berate you on your 1-to-1?” That’s a short-sighted stance in his opinion. “I hope that over this past year and a half we’ve built up a relationship with our community of parents to show that we’re in this discussion together: Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s how we’re helping educate everybody. Let’s just grow it together.”
7 Ideas for Keeping Momentum
Now that the parent technology academy is well into its second year, Berger has hit his stride. Here are seven ways he keeps up the interest and maintains the relevance.
1. Maintain a consistent format. Berger scatters the sessions around to various campuses month by month, “so it’s a little more convenient for parents to attend overall.” And he keeps the format uniform: Each session lasts an hour. He’ll speak for 45 minutes, leaving at least 15 minutes for
questions. Of course, he added, “Sometimes, I’ve been there for up to two hours, because parents just want to keep asking questions.” While he makes sure people know they can leave at the hour mark, many stick around because they want to “hear about what others are dealing with.”
2. Partner with your vendors. The district has brought experts in from Microsoft for
a session on Minecraft, to help parents learn how to set up the gaming software for safety and Cisco, on internet security. More recently, people from Microsoft’s LinkedIn unit came to discuss how parents can help teens develop a suitable online presence
for the purposes of college and career; but the parents themselves also “got some great tips on how to improve their profiles on LinkedIn for expanding the possibilities for themselves,” Berger said.
3. Stay timely. Eight years into its 1-to-1 program, Berger has decided it’s time to examine the question of internet and gaming addiction. “When a district is 1-to-1, some folks think that children are on that device eight hours a day,” he said. “That’s not the case at all. \[The computer\] is like a textbook in the classroom. It’s a resource that’s used to supplement their class activities. So, we’re bringing in a psychologist to talk about what true internet or gaming addictions look
like.” Likewise, as the district sets up esports clubs, a lot of parents are wondering about why their students are playing Fortnight in school, so Berger has put coverage about that topic on the calendar too. For a session on Hour of Code, parents were invited to try out programming too, to help them understand “the importance of that and how coding education really is a need that is showing up more and more for all of our students at all grade levels.”
4. Let parents inform the themes.
Before the session on internet and gaming addiction, Berger queried parents to find out what the top questions were they’d like to ask. “We really want to take advantage
of the time we have together, and then see
if we can sort through those,” he explained. Then, afterwards, as new topic ideas arise from the discussion, he’ll incorporate those in future sessions or schedule a presentation

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