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PPS Wins Digital Citizenship Award

The Portland Public Schools has been recognized as a Common Sense District for its work teaching students to be good digital citizens. Digital citizenship is defined as being an informed, responsible, and critical user of technology while exploring, creating, learning, and making positive and healthy connections.

The recognition was awarded to PPS on June 14 by Common Sense Education, which is part of a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of media and technology. PPS is one of only two districts in Maine to have received this honor.

“The Portland Public Schools has demonstrated its commitment to taking a whole-community approach to preparing its students to use the immense power of digital media to explore, create, connect, and learn, while limiting the perils that exist in the online realm, such as plagiarism, loss of privacy, and cyberbullying,” according to Common Sense Education. “The recognition acknowledges the district's commitment to creating a culture where the whole community is invested in helping kids thrive as digital learners and citizens.”

Being a Common Sense District means that 75% of PPS schools are Common Sense Education schools, where two or more digital citizenship lessons are taught to each grade level, one or more staff members have participated in professional learning about digital citizenship, and family outreach has occurred, said Courtney Graffius, the district’s technology integration coordinator.

She praised the district’s librarians and digital literacy teachers for their critical work in this area. “Our librarians at the elementary level have been the leaders and teachers of these lessons,” Graffius said. “At middle school it's been a combination of digital literacy teachers and librarians, and at the high school level it's been the librarians taking the lead.” She added, “This will be a part of the SEL (social emotional learning) priority for middle school next year, and will continue to be part of the work of the librarians at both our elementary and secondary levels. These educators are committed to teaching students essential digital citizenship skills!”

The Portland Public Schools has been using Common Sense Education's innovative and research-based digital citizenship resources, which were created in collaboration with researchers from Project Zero, led by Howard Gardner at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The resources teach students, educators, and parents tangible skills related to internet safety, protecting online reputations and personal privacy, media balance, managing online relationships, and media literacy. The free K–12 curriculum is used in classrooms across all 50 states.

"We're honored to be recognized as a Common Sense District," said Superintendent Ryan Scallon. "Explicitly teaching students media balance and well-being and how to be safe online is a step we are taking to support our ‘Whole Student’ goal in our  Strategic Plan."

Digital citizenship is a topic of our times with widespread implications. Navigating devices with children is a process and there is no playbook for it. Learning about and practicing being a competent digital citizen is a shared responsibility between schools and guardians. In order to thrive in a digitally connected world, students need to be taught and supported with technology and media use. This needs to occur in three contexts: school, home and community. According to Common Sense Education, “To create a positive culture around media and technology there needs to be a whole-community approach by including a strong family education component.”

 Additionally, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called this week for a warning label on social media that would state that its use can harm teenagers’ mental health.

The Portland Public Schools appreciates the dedication of its librarians and digital literacy teachers in the effort of creating a culture in which the whole community is invested in helping kids thrive as digital learners and citizens. They are appreciative of the Maine Learning and Technology Initiative (MLTI) Ambassadors for their support in this endeavor and to reach the distinction of becoming a Common Sense District. For more resources, please see PPS Digital Citizenship Resources webpage.

The Lewiston Public Schools also was previously selected as a Common Sense District for its digital citizenship efforts.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with more than 6,600 students, and it’s also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of 53 languages. Approximately 48 percent of the district’s students are white and 52 percent are students of color. Nearly half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.