MANCHESTER — As having a cellphone or tablet computer becomes the norm for students, even elementary school students, Ebb Valley Elementary School fourth-graders received a lesson this week in how to protect themselves on the Internet from bullies and others who wish to do them harm.
Master Deputy Jeremy Holland, a school resource officer for the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, met with fourth-grade classes Tuesday to inform them of various ways to protect themselves and their identity, whom they should steer clear of and to let them know the Internet can be used for negative purposes.
"How many of you guys have cellphones?" Holland asked a room of 20 fourth-graders in Jill Knouse's class. A few hands went up.
But when Holland asked students if they had a tablet computer or iPad, nearly the entire class raised their hands.
Last year, Carroll County Public Schools rolled out its Bring Your Own Device program allowing students in grades three through 12 to bring devices like laptops, tablets, netbooks, cellphones and e-readers to school. The program was piloted in six elementary schools including Ebb Valley at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year before being introduced in all elementary schools in the second half of the year.
"This is the second year we've done [the presentations]; I hope to make it an annual thing," said Dolly Mersinger, a fourth-grade teacher at Ebb Valley, who organized the presentations. "The kids today have an opportunity to use so many devices, so knowing how to protect their identity is critical."
Holland explained to students that although you can communicate through messenger applications, email or social media, it's hard to completely understand what a person is trying to communicate through forms of unmediated communication.
"You shouldn't be talking to strangers; you should only be talking to people you already know," Holland cautioned the students.
Holland encouraged students to keep lines of communication related to the Internet open with their parents and to stay away from adults-only areas. While there are positive uses of the Internet, it can also be used for negative reasons, he told the class, which is why they should be careful not to talk to strangers.
He advised students not to give away their geolocation while using apps on their devices, which uses data to provide a user's location to others. For example, if someone checks in at a location on Facebook, other users with the intent to harm someone can use that information to track down an individual, Holland said.
Holland also touched on cyberbullying, or repeated harassment or intimidation through electronic means of communication, which he said occurs quite a bit in the county, although it often goes unreported.
"It's hard for people getting bullied to get away now," Holland told the students. "Now if you have a cellphone or Facebook they can bully you when you get home."
In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed Grace's Law, which makes cyberbullying of a minor illegal in state. Violators are guilty of a misdemeanor and are subject to imprisonment of up to a year and a $500 fine. The law was named in honor of a Howard County teen who committed suicide after being cyberbullied.
Holland advised the fourth-graders not to react or respond to a cyberbully.
"Responding to the bully only makes it worse," he said.
He also explained that when bullying takes place there are three parties involved: the bully, the victim and the bystander, or those who witness it take place.
"We want to stop the bystander stuff," Holland said, encouraging students to speak up if they see someone being bullied. "Don't just let this stuff happen and go unreported."
Holland says he also spends a good deal of time sending the same message to parents by speaking at PTA meetings at elementary, middle and high schools, and some senior centers.
Knouse said although she isn't aware of many instances of cyberbullying happening at Ebb Valley, the brief presentation is a way to reach students before they find themselves in a precarious situation.
Carroll County Breaking News
There has been just one alleged incident of bullying reported at Ebb Valley Elementary this year, according to CCPS Director of Student Services Dana Falls. There have been 37 incidents of alleged cyberbullying reported across the system this year, Falls said.
"It's a way to be proactive and give them the information to be able to help themselves," Knouse said.
For CCPS bullying resources, go to: http://www.carrollk12.org/instruction/studentservices/bullyingresources/default.asp.