St. Mary Magdalen School honored for efforts in promoting online safety.There was understandable excitement in Camarillo on the morning of April 20, as the St. Mary Magdalen School community gathered at their 101 Freeway-side campus to celebrate their award for winning a regional contest to promote cyber safety.

But it was nothing compared to what eighth grade student council member Raechel Moreno felt as she shared a story with the assembly gathered in the parish’s historic chapel next to the school. 

“I was walking down the hallway,” she related, “and three little third grade girls stopped me and they said, ‘We can remember all the definitions of cyber safety, cyber ethics and cyber security.”

Then the girls, one by one, told Raechel what they knew about each of the three parts --- and, best of all, how they had gone home and told their parents what they knew. They also told Raechel that they had asked their parents that new software be installed on their computers at home so they would be cyber safe. 

“They were all excited,” said Raechel. “It was the coolest thing that they were actually doing this!”

Students teaching each other, and their parents, is a key factor in promoting cyber safety at St. Mary Magdalen --- one big reason why representatives of ICAN (a cyber crime task force of government, civic and educational groups) bestowed on the school their award for having accepted and addressed the Cyber Crime Challenge of 2011, notably for having developed a program to educate its students and their parents on how to be safe online. Their program involves parents, teachers, students and all members of the school community.  

ICAN (Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect) is comprised of Los Angeles county, city, state and federal agencies, as well as community organizations and individuals from the private sector. ICAN’s mission is to coordinate the development of services for the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect throughout the region. 

The ICAN challenge was first introduced as an activity aimed at answering the growing need for prevention of cyber bullying in schools. A “hot button” topic for ICAN is cyber crime prevention — and it is a hot button issue around the country as well.

The third annual Cyber Crime Prevention Symposium was held last Sept. 30 in Los Angeles. The symposium included participation by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and several private concerns including Fox Entertainment Group, the Walt Disney Company, Verizon and Facebook. 

The symposium provided a unique opportunity for students, parents and educators to learn about dangers that can be found on the Internet and how to stay safe online. At the event, workshops and panel discussions were held on topics that included child exploitation, smart phone safety, piracy and cyber bullying.

Students were encouraged to take back to their schools information learned at the symposium and, as student teams, were invited to participate in a contest to develop a cyber safety program to educate their entire student body on the various risks associated with cyber crime.  Of the 41 schools that attended the symposium, five submitted entries to meet the challenge, including Chaminade College Preparatory School, Bishop Conaty/Our Lady of Loretto High School, St. John Fisher School and St. James School, besides St. Mary Magdalen. 

 “Each of these schools astounded the Cyber Crime Prevention Task Force with their innovative and informative entries to help get the word out about what was learned at the symposium,” ICAN officials noted.

Representatives were pleased to see such enthusiasm and commitment from the participating schools.

“The FBI along with other local partners are very committed to educate youth today and make sure they are aware of the dangers that can be encountered on the Internet,” said Douglas Macfarlane, acting supervisory special agent for the FBI’s SAFE (Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement) Team in Los Angeles, before the conferring of the award.  

“We want them to be able to experience the Internet in appropriate ways and be aware of the dangers that do exist, and to protect themselves against cyber bullying, online predators. Our goal is to educate the public and promote good safety, and this is one program we are happy to participate in.”

Macfarlane, father of a 7-year-old, noted that while technology for the most part is good, “there are pitfalls, and we have to make sure that parents and educators do what we can to protect our children with the best knowledge.”

Some parents, he noted, report that their kids have given out their home address on the Internet. “We don’t want people afraid of technology, but to use it and use it well, and be aware of what can happen,” he said. 

 “It’s been interesting to see these students really take the project and run with it,” said principal Michael Ronan. “To see their enthusiasm, especially as we have our own technology issues here at school; to truly see the safety component added to it; and to see the energy, enthusiasm and passion the students have --- it’s terrific. 

“There is a parent component that comes with the program, and the students created worksheets for teachers, students and parents. They have educated all the stakeholders — teachers, parents and students alike.” 

Student Council members created videos, developed skits and daily announcements as teaching tools, utilized morning assembly time as teachable moments, created worksheets and adjusted them to various reading levels. These students used teachable moments to spread the work about cyber safety.    

“Our students at St. Mary Magdalen were excited to participate in this great program,” said principal Ronan. “As technology became increasingly present in their daily lives, they saw the importance of reaching out to our parents, students and teachers and educating the community about cyber safety.”

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