This past week, a 22-year-old Hartselle man was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl he met on the social media website Facebook.
James Overton — who is charged with second-degree rape and enticing a child for immoral purposes — told police he met the girl on Facebook and picked her up at a home in Decatur in July. He allegedly took her to a motel where they had sex.
This is the sort of story that parents of today’s “connected” kids fear most. And, it is the sort of story officials at Athens City Schools are hoping to help prevent with a new initiative to help students and parents better understand ways to be safe and protected on the Internet. The News Courier is happy to be one of the sponsors of the plan, called Protect the Nest - Don’t Fall Prey to Dangers Online.
The program was created by students and has three components.
First, a new curriculum called “Common Sense Media,” will be implemented in kindergarten through sixth grades. Working with school counselors, teachers, library media specialists and technology assistants in the schools, students will be taught the components of being a good digital citizen. Lessons will be taught on protecting private information, ways to stay safe online, respecting themselves and others in online communities, cyber bullying and time management.
“As younger children are spending more time on line, it is critical that we as educators and parents teach them how to protect themselves,” said Dr. Chris Hamilton, coordinator of technology for the school district. “We need to expand the ‘stranger danger’ talk that elementary children are given each year to include, not only how to handle face-to face danger, but also how to identify and avoid danger in virtual environments.”
When it comes to face-to-face encounters or bullying, many times students can run away, Hamilton said. In online communities, however, the dangers invade the home and become difficult to escape without the proper training, she said.
“Older students must be constantly reminded that things posted on the Internet build a digital footprint that can affect their futures,” Hamilton said. “A person’s privacy and reputation can be ruined by photos and comments made online. Keeping children and teens safe online requires active parental engagement and open conversations about online activities.”
The second part of the initiative includes declaring Sept. 25 as Internet Safety Day within the school district.
“Students will be involved in various activities prior to this day, with every student signing an Internet Safety Pledge on Sept. 25, Hamilton said.
A free public forum will be held at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Athens Middle School for parents and interested community members. This forum will feature Greg Price, chief technology officer for Troy University and the director of The Alabama Computer Forensics Institute and Training Program. Since is creation in 2008, the CFI has provided digital forensics services to attorneys, businesses, government agencies, law-enforcement agencies, and individuals. Its main goal is to help state and local law-enforcement agencies across Alabama to develop adequate skills for the handling of electronic devices, promote awareness of computer crimes and provide research and lab services for electronic analysis. Price will provide parents with a collection of checklists, resources, best practices and tools to help protect children in cyberspace.
Door prizes, including an iPad and laptop computer will be given away.
During this school year, students in grades 5-12 will continue to receive Internet safety education in their computer classes. However, as a third part of this initiative, students at Athens Intermediate, Middle and High Schools will attend school assemblies featuring Price. Students will benefit from his vast knowledge and first-hand encounters with dangerous situations on the Internet. He will speak at 1 p.m. Athens Intermediate School on Sept. 25; at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 26 at Athens High School; and at 1 p.m. Sept. 26 at Athens Middle School.
The Athens City School’s Foundation, Athens Police Department, Limestone County District Attorney’s Office, Athens/Limestone Chamber of Commerce and the Athens News Courier are co-sponsoring this initiative with the school district.