Marie Belle Vargas has made it her mission to level the playing field for the kids and families in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. Regardless of their access to devices or internet at home, she aims to give students at PS1X Courtlandt School in the South Bronx, New York, the tools they need to thrive and succeed in a world of media and technology.
In 2014, Vargas was looking for resources to provide her grades K-5 students and their families with much-needed media-literacy and digital citizenship support. Like many educators, she struggled to find both age-appropriate materials and the time to gather the resources she needed to create an effective program. Then she attended an NYCDOE workshop and learned about Common Sense Education's resources.
When Vargas brought the Common Sense Digital Citizenship Curriculum back to her colleagues and administration, they were all on board. The principal of PS1X, Jorge Perdomo, was optimistic that digital citizenship instruction would greatly benefit their students. The skills learned could help them with not only online safety but a variety of life skills.
Starting in the 2015-2016 school year, Vargas worked collaboratively with the classroom teachers as well as the technology teacher, Anthony Nuñez, to implement the Common Sense Digital Citizenship Curriculum school-wide.
It was a big undertaking, but Vargas, Nuñez, and Perdomo agree that the Common Sense lessons have had a lasting, positive impact on the students and families at PS1X. As a Common Sense School the past two years, PS1X is committed to a whole-community approach to digital citizenship.
Vargas and the PS1X staff offer these five tips for a successful digital citizenship implementation program.
1. Ensure you have teacher buy-in.
As we all know, a new program's success hinges on the teachers who bring it to our students. At PS1X, Vargas leads professional development workshops on the curriculum for her colleagues. She also works collaboratively with the classroom teachers as well as the technology teacher to fully implement the program.
2. Offer teachers ongoing support.
It's helpful if you have a staff member who can be your digital citizenship lead and support person -- whether that's the media specialist, the technology teacher, or someone else. At PS1X, Vargas supports the classroom teachers by co-teaching five or six digital citizenship lessons in the library for students in second through fifth grades.
3. Weave digital citizenship lessons into core content.
Presenting the digital citizenship lessons within the context of students' content classes helps make the lessons relevant and meaningful. For example, at the beginning of the year at PS1X, students visit the library to learn research skills, so Vargas teaches lessons on information literacy, copyright, and internet safety at that time.
4. Embrace the power of game-based learning.
We know kids can learn through play, so why not take advantage of students' excitement and introduce new concepts via interactive games? In the PS1X technology classes, Nuñez uses Common Sense's interactive games Digital Passport and Digital Compass throughout the year with his students. In combination with Vargas' media center lessons, students at PS1X interact with the digital citizenship content in a variety of ways and contexts to maximize the learning.
5. Involve parents and families in the program.
Getting parents and other family members involved is essential for the success of any digital citizenship program. In addition, many parents want guidance on managing family media use. Vargas leads workshops for parents at the school, introducing them to resources such as Common Sense Latino and the Common Sense Media ratings and reviews. She's offered small parent discussion groups on topics such as cyberbullying, privacy, and digital footprints and distributes the Common Sense Family Media Agreement and Family Tip Sheets to all parents.
Read the full Common Sense Education Case Study on PS1X Courtlandt School (PDF).