Grant program to aid in teaching digital citizenship

Emma Epperly
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Media literacy and digital citizenship would be the focus of a grant program for school districts in the state.
Sen. Marko Liias’ Senate Bill 5594 was heard by the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee last Wednesday.
Committee Chairwoman Lisa Wellman was supportive of the bill saying, its part of the school safety package the Legislature has been working on this session.
Wellman cited online bullying and its link to mental health as an important reason to tackle digital citizenship in schools.
A study done at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital in New York showed 20 percent of child and adolescent patients had experienced cyberbullying and that cyberbullying is associated with symptoms of depression, dissociation and anger.
“Being a good digital citizen is really important…how to use the internet well, in a way that respects others and understanding really what you’re doing,” Wellman said. “What you put out there lasts forever.”
Several school libraries, teachers, and administrators testified in support of the bill, some remotely.
Morgan Larson, a teacher-librarian at Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley, testified on the importance of teaching students how to evaluate information they find online. Larson called her students “digital natives” who have grown up using the internet, but struggle to accurately evaluate the credibility of that information.
“We can teach our digital natives how to be safe and responsible online so that they may grow in to productive, informed, civically minded citizens of Washington,” Larson said.
The bill follows a 2016 state Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction advisory group charged with determining best practices and recommending improvements to media literacy and digital citizenship.
The office conducted a 2018 study on these topics and 45 percent of schools said they need improvements in preparing students in media literacy, digital citizenship and internet safety.
The grant program proposed by Liias, D-Lynnwood, would help school districts develop curriculum on media literacy and digital citizenship, or both.
These units could be part of social studies, English and language arts, or health and must be available as an open educational resource.
There would also be regional conferences on media literacy and digital citizenship operated by the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction. The conferences would highlight grant recipients’ work.