Weeklong student activities, a rousing personalized cheer and an all-school handmade paper quilt gave St. Thomas More School in Alhambra the edge as they took top billing at this year’s Cyber Crime Challenge.
Sponsored by the Inter Agency Council on Abuse and Neglect (ICAN), the Cyber Crime Prevention Subcommittee (CCPS) and numerous law enforcement agencies, the Cyber Crime Challenges invited students to engage in meaningful ways to convey the seriousness of cyber bullying, internet predators, social media dangers, and exploitation. Parents were also part of the program.
Now in its third year, the competition was open to elementary and high schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Taking second place was St. Francis de Sales in Sherman Oaks. Other participating schools included: Alverno High School (Sierra Madre), Our Lady of Malibu School (Malibu) and St. Dorothy School (Glendora).
In addition to a trophy and certificates of commendation from local and federal agencies, St. Thomas More received $1,000 for their efforts and a full day of CyberAlly Workshop Training valued at $2,500.
The challenge began last fall when schools sent student teams (usually six student council members) to a daylong Cyber Crime Prevention Symposium in downtown Los Angeles. Youth learned about the issues and what it takes to safely navigate the intricate and ever-changing 21st century technology. Fueled with information and resources, the students returned to their schools and shared what they learned with their classmates.
For the students at St. Thomas More, that meant expanding their Anti-Bullying Week which is usually held around Catholic Schools Week. The student team developed programs for the entire school body (pre-K to 8) and the parents, who attended an evening discussion on cybercrime by Tracy Webb, senior trial deputy in charge of Cyber Crime and Child Abuse Prosecution Division, L.A. City Attorney's Office.
Webb, one of the judges for the competition, praised all schools’ efforts. “Technology has so much to offer but we want parents and kids to realize and be aware of the dark side,” she said.
At the all-school assembly, Webb asked students to demonstrate their Anti-Bullying Cheer, an infectious chant with students young and old clapping and swaying as they advocated to “take a stand, lend a hand.”
The biggest challenge of developing the weeklong program for the entire student body was making sure to make the messages age-appropriate, said Nicole Hernandez, student council president.
“Bullying means different things to a kindergartener than a junior high student,” she said. “We had to make sure that they understood all the forms of bullying.”
Hernandez and team also had the task of stringing together nearly 200 paper quilt squares that each student at the school created (“We spent a lot of our lunch and recess time putting it together,” she smiled). The colorful art piece depicts ideas, words and images all related to bullying. Symposium organizers were so impressed with the 14-square-by-14-square quilt that they want to utilize it at upcoming events.
“The best way to get the message across [about bullying] is to talk about people’s feelings,” said co-principal Judy Jones.
Tapping into a student’s natural empathy is vital, she said, as is getting parents onboard from the start. Often times, parents don’t know what their children are doing on the computer or their phones.
“We can’t just throw technology at our kids,” Jones stated. “We have to give them a game plan, set rules.”