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.

Wall family make good deeds part of their routine

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

IT’S IN THE BAG: Sebastiane and Teagan Wall show just a few of the backpacks they’ve already collected for kids in need. Their next backpack/duffle bag drive will be in May, and their next coat/hat/mitten drive will be in November.

Sebastiane and Teagan Wall like to put the needs of others before their own. Each year, the sisters, along with their parents Dan and Jane, host a variety of collections for those in need.

Two years ago, the family began a backpack/duffle bag drive to benefit the children who are in the foster care system. Jane Wall works for the Department of Children, Youth and Families, doing home studies for foster and adoptive families, and is a case manager for children in foster care.

“There are 4,400 kids receiving services from DCYF; 2,200 of these are in out-of-home placements,” Jane explained. “I’ve moved too many kids with their stuff in trash bags and grocery bags.”

The first year the family decided to host the drive, which they’ve nicknamed Baggage Claim 4 Kids, they announced their intent to family and friends and to their Woodridge Elementary School community, since the girls are in the second and third grades at the school.

They chose the month of May for the drive, since May is National Foster Care Month.

“The first year we collected approximately 100 backpacks and last year we collected about 125,” said Jane.

The Wall family has been able to extend their drive to the West Coast, since Jane has colleagues and friends there who host a drive as well. The drive on that coast produced about 50 the first year and 75 the second.

“Once we even gave a bear, some clothes and some coloring books with a backpack,” said Sebastiane.

Her mother agreed that the girls are wonderful about giving to anyone when they see a need.

“I feel good because we are helping people, mostly kids, and even though we don’t want to give our stuff away, we like it when we’re giving them to other people,” said Teagan.

With the backpack drive being such a success, the Wall family decided to try their hand at a coat/hat/mitten drive in November, at Thanksgiving.

“We host a Thanksgiving potluck, and one year we asked everyone to bring a dish and a coat,” said Jane. “The day after Thanksgiving, there’s a ‘Have A Coat, Bring a Coat, Give a Coat, Get a Coat’ event on the State House lawn, and we brought the coats there. We had so many coats, they asked us what agency we were from.”

“We usually bring hats and mittens with the coats,” Sebastiane added.

The Wall family has also participated in many other drives, even if they’re not hosting them, such as Project Undercover, which provides socks, underwear and diapers for those in need. They’ve donated toiletry items to CCAP. This past summer, they made a lemonade stand and had all of their profits go to the Cranston Animal Shelter.

“We raised $14 because a lot of people didn’t want change back,” said Sebastiane. “Then we donated some of our allowance too. We bought towels, cleaning supplies and toys for the animals.”

Jane notes that with the state of the economy now, more families than ever are being hit hard, creating an unprecedented need.

“For me professionally, it’s been nice to be able to raise awareness. Some people say they never thought about the need for kids in foster care to have a bag to transport their belongings, but once it was on their radar screen, they were more than willing to give,” she said.

Sebastiane and Teagan said that they like to do something for someone else approximately every other month.

“We like to do it, we like to make a bit of a difference for someone else,” said Jane. “And we like that we can do it together.”

For more information on Baggage Claim 4 Kids, or to donate a gently used backpack, duffle bag, coat, hat or mittens, contact the Wall family at