Teachers learn about cyberbullying, 'sexting'

August 23, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The new weapon in the battle? School teachers.

The effort comes as students return to class for start of the new school year, giving educators another tool to help combat the dangers of the internet.

Making teachers a little more cyber savvy is just part of the ongoing fight against the temptation to use technology to hurt, as opposed to educate and entertain.

Even before the first bell rings at Andrew Jackson Language Academy, 1340 W. Harrison St., teachers at the CPS magnet school are learning some new lessons about cyberbullying and "sexting."

"My main job as a teacher, I think, is the welfare of the student," said Sharon Gill, first grade teacher.

This small group of educators is among more than 365 throughout the state who are participating in internet safety training.

"Our children are both vulnerable and precious, and we must be respectfully deliberate to protect them," said Vinnie Hall, Illinois State Board of Education.

The first-of-its-kind webinar is the brainchild of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and goes beyond the state's Internet Act of 2009, which requires school districts to teach internet safety to students in the third grade or above.

"Part of this training is to get kids to understand what they're doing, the consequences of what they're doing," said Madigan.

"Whatever happens in that domain or any domain of interpersonal relationships between students, it comes into the classroom," said Principal Matthew Ditto, Andrew Jackson Language Academy.

The program provides all classroom teachers with resources and information through training modules to help students avoid the pitfalls of online exploitation, piracy, cyberbullying and the growing phenomenon of sexting, which is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs primarily between mobile phones.

Although sexting has not been an issue at Andy Jackson, bullying has.

"A lot is blocked, but truly a lot gets through," said Karen Veit, Andrew Jackson Language Academy Computer teacher.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, more than 43 percent of children -- especially teens -- have been victims of cyberbullying, which is defined as:

using the internet, a cell phone or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.

That is reason enough, those on hand Monday said, for an effort to combat the elements on the internet that pose a danger to kids, like soon-to-be first grader Sophia Rebolleto.

"I think it's important at a young age to learn about cyberbullying and internet safety, and the effects of it," said Marilou Robolleto, Sophia's mother.

Most school systems, including the Chicago Public Schools, take cyberbullying and sexting very seriously.

CPS has amended its rules to include inappropriate behaviors by students happening not just inside the classroom but before and after school.

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