Learn how to make parents and caregivers an integral part of your digital citizenship program.

parents talking at a school

This article is part of Common Sense Education's Teacher Voices series, which provides a platform for diverse perspectives on teaching in the digital age. All ideas expressed are the writer's own.

"In Alisal, we work with an agricultural community. Many of our parents don't have a lot of exposure to technology -- beyond their cellphones -- in their daily lives. That's why it's incumbent upon us as educators to educate our whole community on this new area of knowledge, not just our students. It's opened up the door to conversations we wouldn't have otherwise been able to have." -- Joshua Harris, Alisal’s director of educational technology

In the Alisal Union School District in Salinas, California, we aim to establish a whole-community approach to digital citizenship. We've had great results with our Digital Citizenship Academies for teachers but found that working with educators alone wasn't enough to help our students' families grasp these relatively new and critical concepts. In addition, as we worked toward earning Common Sense Recognition, we needed to have a plan in place for how to engage the parent community on these topics. And so we created the Digital Citizenship Parent Academies to fill this space for parent and family education.

Setting Goals for Parent Education

As we started to develop these academies, we first considered using Common Sense Education's Connecting with Families resources. We felt these were a good place to start, but they didn't quite fit our district's needs. As an elementary school district with primarily Spanish-speaking families, we needed to design a program that would work best for our community. We decided to build our academies based on Common Sense Education’s Digital Citizenship Scope & Sequence.

We designed the academies so parents could walk away with a basic understanding of digital citizenship. With this focus in mind, our goals for the academies were to introduce parents and families to the components of digital citizenship (e.g., internet safety, digital footprints and reputation, privacy and security) and give them some ideas on how to work with their children on these topics. In addition, we wanted families to understand that the internet can be used for malicious activity, but more importantly, marvelous things can be accomplished using technology. Lastly, families needed tools and resources to access at home, so we wanted to show them what Common Sense Media has to offer and how it can make their lives easier.

Finding the Right Approach

Our first Parent Academy was at the end of the 2016–2017 school year. We made thousands of color flyers, sent packages of these flyers to each of our 12 school sites to be sent home, and offered our one-hour class in both English and Spanish at one convenient location (two large auditoriums at one of our schools). We even offered child care, coffee, and pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread). Unfortunately, across our whole district, we only had about 20 families show up for our Spanish-speaking presentation, and no families showed up for our English presentation.

Moving into the 2017–2018 school year, we took the foundation from the previous year but knew we needed to take a different approach. Instead of holding one event as a district, we decided to give the sites more ownership. We did this by sending an email to site leaders offering them these fully prepared Parent Academies. All they had to do was give us a date, time, and location. We coupled this with sending teachers from our Digital Citizenship Teacher Academies directly to their school leadership to present the idea of the Parent Academies. We wanted to have schools and teachers own this process instead of us owning it at the district level, and we had teachers from each site helping with the presentations.

Giving ownership over to the sites allowed us to increase our attendance because schools had a pre-built audience in their school site councils, PTO meetings, and coffee klatches. They could choose when and where to offer the academies. Schools were also in charge of their own advertising. All that the district edtech department did was make a personalized advertisement of the event for each site with the school mascot/logo and the services that each site would provide (e.g., child care), and the school took care of the rest. Some of the schools advertised through their Facebook pages, the Remind app, and robocalls.

Because of these changes, the parent attendance at most sites increased. Many sites held the academies at night from about 6:00 p.m.-7:15 p.m., but we found that the academy that had the most attendance was held during a coffee klatch from 8:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m. One site chose an abridged version, which took about 45 minutes. Giving the sites the ability to customize these academies helped make them more successful, with more sites showing interest.

Inside a Parent Academy

When we were designing the academies, we wanted to make sure that they were as hands-on as possible. Instead of just talking about Common Sense Education’s lessons, we turned it into a matching game, which consists of a hands-on sorting activity where parents match the different topics of the curriculum with their corresponding definitions. We took these definitions from the curriculum and slightly modified them to make sure they were understandable to parents. We also encouraged parents to group up and collaborate during the activity.

After reviewing the responses, we provided parents with examples for many of the topics and suggestions on how to address the topics with the rest of their families. We gave small, bite-sized tips, like looking for the lock in the address bar to make sure sites are secure and looking for images that are allowed to be reused. To reinforce the learning, we created a short game of Kahoot!.

Next we introduced Common Sense Media and showed parents how to access the different resources available. In the Spanish session, we highlighted how to use Google Translate to translate the webpages that were previously inaccessible due to language. Finally, parents received a document with links to various internet resources on the topic of digital citizenship.

On the Road to Success

According to Billy Gilmore, a sixth-grade teacher who participated in our first parent night, “I found the Digital Citizenship Parent Academy to be an excellent experience for both myself and the parents of my students. I was able to connect with the parents and help them develop a greater understanding of how to play an active role in the digital and social media their children are exposed to.”

Stephanie Coffin, an instructional coach, felt the Parent Academy at her school was also very successful. Coffin explained, "The parents were thrilled to learn how to translate a website into Spanish. Many parents were talking about translating sites that their children often visit so they can be aware of what their children do online at home. It was a very empowering evening for the parents."

As of today, we've been able to reach more than three quarters of our school sites, and we are hopeful that we'll reach 100 percent of the sites in the next year. We've received some good feedback from parents on these events. Afterward, parents have told us they learned a lot but wish other family members could have been there. Recently, we brought these academies into parents' homes with a webinar version of it on Facebook Live. With over 1,000 views, we felt good about our first try.

Looking Forward

Despite these successes, we still feel we have room for growth. For example, attendance at these events has been mixed. Some of them had 50 parents and families in attendance, while others had only three or four parents there. We do our best to keep promoting the academies though flyers and robocalls, but we'd like to reach even more parents. We would also like to shift the heavy lifting of doing the actual presentation from the edtech department to our site teachers and administrators.

Moving forward, we'll continue to offer these academies with the mantra of "one family at a time." We feel we have a solid start with most of our community members, and we will definitely continue to support the Digital Citizenship Parent Academies, continuing to revise and revisit as needed.

Additional contributors to this article: George Lopez and Joshua Harris.

Ben C.

teacher, edtech TOSA, husband, dad, foodie, gamer, lifelong learner | Team @TOSAchat | @edcampsalinas | @MBCUE | @GSuiteEduhelp | #cuerockstar | #alisalstrong

George L.

George Lopez works in the Alisal Union School District, in Salinas, CA.