Like all school districts, Vancouver Public Schools leaders feel that their students are “simply fantastic.” However, they also know in some cases, those students rely on their district to provide guidance on how to manage the social and emotional aspects of technology and good digital citizenship. That means knowing how to recognize a serious issue and reporting it to the right people.
With a superintendent who is “all about the kids” and only wants the best for them, the district’s leadership vision turned a watchful eye on student safety. Recognizing that a void needed to be filled to ensure that students’ online presences weren’t unattended, he introduced the district’s IT team to the Gaggle safety management platform.
“As we scaled up our 1:1 technology program in grades 3-12, our superintendent told us that this was something that needed a careful and thoughtful look, so we did,” says Christina Iremonger, chief digital officer.
After a comprehensive evaluation process, the large, urban/suburban district added the technology platform three years ago.
“Our students tend to know the importance of reporting serious issues,” said Christina. “But when there are times where—for whatever reason—they don’t recognize the seriousness of the situation, now Gaggle can help us catch that and respond accordingly.”
Reviewed by Gaggle’s trained safety team 24 hours a day, seven days a week, suspicious activity is presented to school and district administrators only when it involves serious or life-threatening situations—allowing educators to focus on teaching while keeping students safe.
Previously, Vancouver Public Schools relied on self-reporting. If a friend saw that a student was doing something inappropriate online, that friend might or might not report it. The district monitored its email using the required filters.
“Additionally, we relied on teachers paying close attention and knowing their students—and their relationships with other students—in a way that would make us aware that a student was doing something unsafe,” said Christina. “Hope and vigilance were what was available, but with Gaggle we have the peace of mind that there’s more.”
“Take social media, for example. Most students have access to it through their own devices, but when the district is providing the device (and the necessary licenses) that’s being used to collaborate and communicate online, we felt a strong obligation to monitor that activity in some way,” Christina pointed out.
“Most kids are going to do everything right, but there are some that need a little guidance,” she explained. “They need some parameters, and they need that helpful, watchful eye that will help them out of difficult situations.”
A proponent of the reporting platform, Christina helped Vancouver Public Schools “turn on” the service across its 37 elementary, middle, high school, and specialty schools. “We established a protocol with our schools and community that if we obtain information suggesting or indicating imminent danger to a person it is our responsibility to deal with that immediately,” Christina noted that for non-life threatening matters reported after school hours, the principal is notified the following workday and deals with the situation at the school level.
In its Responsible Use Agreement, Vancouver Public Schools included information about the monitoring and the protocol for managing incidents during and after school. “If we get any information at any time, be it via Gaggle or another means that even suggests that a child is in danger,” said Christina, “we call 911.”
By giving students another “safe place” to share information about suspicious activity, and even report on their own personal concerns, the district has reduced the number of minor offenses that take place, because students know their communications are being reviewed. Youngsters also have been encouraged to share their struggles with teachers and guidance counselors through face-to-face communications.
“They know that we’re going to pick up on it and actually do something about it,” Christina said. “That helps students who still might not be brave enough to share their struggles directly with an adult.”
To districts dealing with the same self-reporting issues that challenged her district three years ago, Christina said it’s important to understand that students often see technology differently than adults do.
“We need to be cognizant of the fact that in a world where students are very comfortable using the technology in the way they want to use it, we must be protective and help safeguard them,” she said. “A service like Gaggle is really important to help us do that, because we can’t do it from our angle. We need that extra far-reaching support.”