2017-02-09 / Front Page

Program To Teach Internet Safety

By Kevin R. Hess

Technology has made it possible for information to be available within seconds, with just a few strokes on a keyboard or the touch of an app on a smartphone. With every technological advance, there are positive and negative impacts. With information so easily available, it can also put people and their personal information—children, teens, and adults—at risk. A program at the St. Ignace school Thursday, February 16, will help people learn more about safety.

St. Ignace Area Schools is partnering with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to address online safety and dangers through a program called Project iGuardian. Project iGuardian provides students, parents, teachers, and community members with information regarding online safety. HSI Special Agent Todd Wilton will be leading separate assemblies for the elementary, middle school, and high school students during the day, and a special assembly for parents, guardians, and community members that evening from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Elementary/Middle School cafeteria. The evening assembly will address sensitive topics and real cases and is intended for an adult audience only. It will also provide adults with the tools to help monitor their children’s online activity and help better protect them from dangers of the Internet.

SA Wilton’s primary role with HSI is to conduct online child exploitation criminal investigations. He is a member of two Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces in Marquette and Traverse City, and an affiliate of the Internet Child Exploitation Technological Crime Unit in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He has conducted Project iGuardian assemblies for almost a year and has been to 16 schools, two churches, and one summer camp throughout the U.P. and northern Lower Michigan.

The presentations, he said, have always been positively received.

“After almost all of the events, I’ve asked to be critiqued in efforts to make the presentations better. The responses have honestly always been positive,” he said. “I often receive follow-up emails from principals regarding the impact on students as a result of talk among themselves. I most commonly hear ‘eye opening,’ a ‘powerful message,’ and ‘I had no idea,’ in regards to the presentations.”

Gregg Fettig, principal of LaSalle High School, said the goal is to get information out to students, parents, and community members about the potential dangers of online environments.

“With more young people being connected to online environments, it is important to provide people with information and to do whatever we can to make sure our kids are safe,” said Mr. Fettig.

A letter was sent to all high school parents detailing the assemblies and the content.

This past September, Mr. Wilton conducted Project iGuardian assemblies in Cedarville. Randy Schaedig, superintendent and principal of Les Cheneaux Community Schools, said the presentation was eye opening in many ways.

“The adult presentation was shocking and disturbing, but necessary.

Mr. Wilton shared a wealth of information concerning apps to look out for, Web sites to avoid, and several real life examples of how one bad decision can lead to disastrous consequences. I would absolutely recommend (people attend) this presentation,” he said.

Monday, January 30, SA Wilton was in Mackinaw City conducting the assemblies. Adam Stefanski, principal of Mackinaw City Public Schools, received positive feedback from the students and adults who participated. He, too, strongly encourages people to attend Project iGuardian.

“I would encourage all parents and community members to do their best to attend a presentation by SA Wilton. The issues we face online today are far too serious to miss this speech,” he said.

Mr. Stefanski also said that students were very attentive and spoke openly and freely to SA Wilton, and were able to express their concerns while receiving relevant answers to their daily lives.

“Students later explained to me that although they were aware of some of these dangers, it was an eye-opening experience for them to hear real-life examples that occurred in schools in northern Michigan,” he said.

SA Wilton said that the Internet has no boundaries and that children in the U.P. are no more isolated than anywhere else.

“We are literally inundated with online child exploitation cases involving children and suspects in our area. Last year alone, HSI special agents logged nearly a million hours working cases, opening more than 4,000 investigations.” he said.

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