Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cranston weighs in on cyberbullying commission

September 16, 2010
Cranston Herald
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

The Special Senate Commission to study the problem of cyberthreats and cyberbullying held its first meeting on Sept. 9 at the State House. The meeting was open to the public.

Among those serving on the panel was Dr. Jacqueline Striano, assistant principal at Western Hills Middle School.

According to Striano, presentations that shared current research, information and specific student responses to cyberbullying were made by Scituate’s Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lawrence Filippelli; by Dr. Robert Gable, Ed. D., Director of the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program and professor of education at Johnson & Wales University; and Dr. Stacey Kite, biology professor at Johnson & Wales who serves as a representative of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The presentations included recommendations to parents and community members as to how to be on guard and proactive in their efforts to protect their children from computer related bullying and sexting issues.

Cyberbullying involves the use of various forms of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior by an individual or group that is intended to harm others. It may be simple, such as continually e-mailing someone who has said they want no further contact, or it can include threats, sexual remarks or posting false statements as fact intended to humiliate someone.

“Dr. Fillippelli presented the group with the alarming information as to how quickly information moves in cyberspace, using the analogy of a Polaroid camera from the 1980s through which one picture can quickly be destroyed and today's handheld phones that can share photos and texts with thousands of users within seconds. “‘Technology moves so fast,’ he said, that ‘in schools today we are preparing students for technologically related jobs that don't yet exist,’” said Dr. Striano.

Striano also noted that Fillippelli urged adults to be "PESTS," which stands for protecting students, establishing online guidelines, securing private information, tolerating no excuses, and snoop (scanning their children's online sites and information).

Other committee members, including Cranston Senator Bea Lanzi (D-Dist. 26), expressed alarm at the numbers of students who do not report instances of cyberbullying for fear of social isolation and retaliation.

"We have to do something in our schools," Senator Lanzi said.

Senator Tassoni (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) agreed, saying, that the commission hopes to start a dialogue that can eventually enact that change.

“Repeatedly making threats or posting humiliating information about another child online is unacceptable and online harassment can spill over into other kinds of harassment, with deadly consequences,” he said. “I think this commission has the potential to be influential in developing suggestions to increase tolerance and promote understanding among our young people.”

According to Dr. Striano, the educators, professors and senators all agreed that there must be an educational approach to inform students that cyberbullying will not be tolerated.

In addition, committee members stressed the significance of involving the students and teachers themselves in further actions and activities, as they are on the front lines.

“There must be student involvement for ‘buy-in’ to any new initiative,” said Dr. Fillippelli. “We can't beat them in the technology race. Our stance must be education and prevention.”

The study commission is expected to report its findings and recommendations to the Senate by the end of next March.

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