Class Notes

iMentorship tackles bullying

Students at David Thompson secondary have been teaching Grade 4 students in Vancouver about online safety and cyberbullying through a pilot program called iMentorship for the past three years.

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We see teens, in particular, as being experts, technically, in the way that they manage handheld devices, computers, theyre really socially networked, said Teri Corcoran, community school team coordinator for the David Thompson family of feeder schools in southeast Vancouver.

Through lessons developed with the help of teachers, David Thompson students in Planning 10 and Grade 11 and 12 students in Family Management are taught about protecting private information, the permanence of digital images, keeping safe from bullying and harassment, and to develop critical thinking skills about their and others online actions.

Merlyn Horton, executive director of Safe Online Outreach Society, or SOLOS, which serves the Lower Mainland, launched iMentorship with a talk for secondary students the last two years.

When the older students are asked what their little brothers and sisters in Grade 4 need to know about remaining safe online, it gives teens a chance to consolidate this learning for themselves.

When theyre trying to put it in words the younger kids understand, they seem to internalize it a little more themselves, Corcoran said.

The secondary school mentors develop and deliver a mini conference of five workshops for students in Grade 4, who Corcoran said arent as independent yet online.

Workshop participants have created board games, videos, hip hop songs and made public pledges about safer cyber behaviour.

Workshops happened at one elementary school in 2010, three in 2011 and will be held at four schools before the March break this year.

A University of B.C. research project during the first year found that high school students reported spending five hours a week less online as an unexpected result of iMentorship.

The program reached approximately 300 of the Vancouver School Boards 54,000 students last year with the help of a grant from Coast Capital Savings Credit Union.

The Vancouver School Board is developing a guide based on iMentorship that it hopes to circulate to other schools by late November so the program could be replicated district-wide, says school board spokesman Kurt Heinrich.

He said a document called Responding to Cyberbullying: A Guide for School Communities was produced in 2008 to help school staff respond to cyberbullying and involve parents, but the rapid advancement in technology means its already out of date.

Heinrich said many schools bring in speakers to address online safety and cyberbullying.

Its something that people are really aware of and really trying to [address], Corcoran said, calling the case of Amanda Todd, the Port Coquitlam teen who posted a YouTube video about the online harassment, stalking and bullying she faced before killing herself last week, heartbreaking.

Corcoran says children need to be educated early and teachers need to have the tools to talk about online safety in class all the time.

Its a new world, she said.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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