2016-08-25 / Around Town

Police to Educate Parents on Social Media

By James Merolla

Concerned with what their children are posting and reading online, Middletown parents have approached police to explain the ramifications, many of which their children don’t understand.

Emphasizing that everything sent or posted remains a permanent, and potentially damaging, personal record, School Resource Officer Benjamin Costa of the Middletown Police Department made a presentation at the School Committee’s Aug. 18 meeting.

“With all the things going on around the world and in our schools, we needed a workshop,” said School Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger.

Costa said he has been approached by some parents with questions on various downloadable apps and on what their children are posting. “The kids are all using them. Many I’ve never come across [before].”

He is setting up workshops to present awareness and safety tips to parents regarding their children’s online activities. “There are predators, and there are things they should not be sending or posting to each other,” he said.

The concern is especially acute in the middle school, where the resource officer spends much of his time. While most of the activity has been outside the schools, Costa said, it is now seeping into the classrooms. He is planning to set up a “Social Media Awareness Night” for parents, so they will “be aware not only of the dangers that are out there, but the bullying as well.”

The workshop will teach students and parents about the dangers of texting, “sexting,” false Instagram posts, crimes, cyber-bullying, and other online perils.

Costa and his fellow officers plan to meet with school principals to set a date for the event, which will be open to the entire Middletown community.

“I think that’s great. Kids think this is no big deal. They will say, ‘C’mon, mom, let me download the app,’” said School Committee Chair Theresa Spengler. “Police can easily track something down once it has been posted. Then once something is out there, it is permanent. There are some high schoolers who think, ‘No, that’s impossible.’”

Costa reported that his department has recently investigated threats made or received on the Internet. “We have had to investigate and have had to knock on someone’s door,” said the officer.

“Considering your visibility and knowledge of the schools, you are just what we need,” added Kraeger. In other business:

. Kraeger and the committee discussed that the schools and the town will be working together in advocating for the upcoming bonds that will be on the ballot in November.

The superintendent told her colleagues that town officials recently pledged to work in unison with the schools in putting out one overall message on the need for about $10 million in school repairs and security and $5 million for roadwork.

The bonds will not create additional burdens for taxpayers, according to Kraeger, considering a mix of available capital improvement monies and savings from prior debts coming off town books. Reimbursements from the state will also reduce the overall costs of the bonds to around $6 million.

“We want to work jointly to be in synch on the communications efforts to get the word out,” said Kraeger.

. The School Committee unanimously approved a budget amendment to allocate $351,000 in surplus money for eight new carts of laptop computers and other technology for ninth-graders. Estimates are that some 156 laptops will be purchased.

. Enrollment figures were reviewed, with overall numbers either below or near last year’s figures. Total enrollment is projected to be down about 50 students from a year ago, but a large contingent of 207 ninth-graders is set to enter the high school. “The freshmen class is the highest it’s been,” said Kraeger.

“Our kindergarten enrollment is projected to be low. I think we are going to see a trend in the state that data is going to be down [at that level],” she added.

Enrollment is expected to be 356 students at Aquidneck, 312 at Forest, 169 at Gaudet Learning Academy (grade 4), 670 at Gaudet Middle School, and 658 at Middletown High School. Numbers were similar last year, with 363 students at Aquidneck, 310 at Forest, 186 at grade four, 708 at Gaudet, and 650 at MHS.

. To welcome the large freshman class at the high school, committee members lauded a new ninth-grade learning academy created to help students make the transition from middle school. MHS principal Gail Abromitis told the committee she was concerned that she was losing freshmen before they even started their high school careers.

Basically “a school within a school,” Abromitis said the academy will show new MHS students how important they are in the high school mix, now that they are going from having seniority at Gaudet to starting all over again. The goal is for students to know they’re part of something bigger and can determine their futures by the time and work they put in.

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