Student Life

Digital Citizenship = Good Character

Students today are growing up as digital natives — immersed in technology throughout their entire lives. Adults often marvel at how quickly young people pick up a device or app and start using it right away. And complex technology is increasingly designed for the casual user. Anyone can build a website or create a professional-looking video from the palm of their hand. New kid-centric social media apps and games seem to pop up daily. But with that widespread ease of use comes even greater responsibility to teach the kinds of lessons that an app never will. As technology jumps lightyears ahead with advances around every corner, we return to the word “character” that has lived in our mission for over a hundred years.

Why Teach Digital Citizenship?

Digital citizenship is simple in theory but complex in practice. It means applying the same rules of conduct and character online that we apply to “real life” situations. Although our digital interactions are part of the very real lives we live each day, the digital space presents a level of separation and anonymity. For young students who are just developing their understanding of self and how to be good people in the world, it can be confusing to navigate. They need explicit instruction on how to use technology safely, responsibly and with respect for themselves and others.
Severn School Lower School student looks at his iPad.
5th graders use technology frequently in class now, but they will have much more independent access next year.

5th-Grade Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Lower School technology specialist Ms. Vicki Dabrowka developed this curriculum to prepare our 5th graders for the big shift toward Middle School where they’ll be using iPads in the classroom daily with the freedom to use iPads and library computers on their own to access and complete assignments. Both she and technology coordinator Mr. Sam Mendez lead this series of classes to help students to become inclusive, informed, engaged, balanced and alert with regard to technology.

The in-depth program includes:
  • Review and discussion of Severn’s acceptable use policy.
  • "Be Internet Awesome": Based on Google’s popular program, Mr. Mendez teaches five weekly sessions to introduce students to safe searching, privacy, self-advocacy and more.
  • Digital Survey: Students take a survey to encourage them to think about their relationship to technology. Ms. Dabrowka helps students reflect on their answers and generate ideas for how they might make changes or improve their habits.
  • Texting and Digital Drama: Understanding cyberbullying, digital drama and how what we write and read online affects how we feel about ourselves and others.
  • Digital Footprint: Examining the longer term consequences of how we represent ourselves online.
By the end of the curriculum, every fifth grader writes a reflection that demonstrates their understanding of what it means to be a good digital citizen along with an action plan outlining strategies they will use in their own lives. These are based on each student’s personal self-assessment throughout the curriculum and can include anything from spending less time online to reporting a hurtful or abusive comment.
Severn School Lower School student raises a hand during class.
Ms. Dabrowka encourages student reflection and participation through every part of the curriculum.

Do Try This at Home

This January, Ms. Dabrowka shared details about the digital citizenship curriculum at a “Tech Time” Lower School parent coffee. She included suggestions for parents to reinforce what their children are learning in school:
  • Tech becomes “one more thing to parent.” Make sure you are ready for that.
  • Consider your own habits, your kids are watching you.
  • No tech in bedrooms. Kids need 9-10 hours of sleep.
  • Create a charging station outside of bedrooms.
  • Monitor how your kids act during and after being online, this behavior can help dictate if you need to make a change.
  • Gaming often has a chat element, be sure to monitor that.
  • Consider a family contract (similar to Severn’s AUP).
  • Strive to get habits in place when students are younger; it’s easier to lighten up versus tighten up.
  • Remember, kids are tech savvy and will often find a “work around” to whatever you set up.
  • Collaborate as a parent community. You are all in this together!
"We live in a time like no other, with technology growing and changing exponentially. As adults, even we are challenged in this ever-moving landscape and yet we are the guides for our children and students. We are parenting in ways our parents never had to parent. Our kids' eyes are on us and we are their examples. It's up to us to teach them the skills and strategies necessary to navigate through the bumpy world of living both on and offline. In doing so, we can help them manage their devices rather than being controlled by them." — Ms. Dabrowka

Helpful Websites and Reading

  • Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesdays blog: articles on a variety of technology issues for adolescents
  • Wait Until 8th: support for the case to wait for smartphones
  • Family guide to Google’s “Be Internet Awesome”
  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
  • Art of Screentime: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media & Real Life by Anya Kamentz
  • Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (& Survive) in Their Digital World by Deborah Heitner
  • The Techwise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch
  • DigCitKids: Lessons Learning Side-By-Side, to Empower Others Around the World by Marialice Curran
  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age by Shelly Turkle

Lower School

Upper School