CMS and FBI team up for cyber safety

With school back in session, one topic that’s on many class curriculums around the nation is cyber safety. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Police Department has teamed up with FBI Charlotte to promote the FBI’s new “Safe Online Surfing Internet Challenge” (FBI-SOS) program. The free web-based initiative is designed to help teachers educate students about cyber safety in a fun and informative way.

The program was developed by the FBI with assistance of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and included input from teachers across the country. The site features six grade-specific “islands” for students in Grades 3-8 highlighting various aspects of cyber security through games, videos, and other interactive features.

“It is important for students to create good online habits early,” said CMS Police Detective Kenny Lynch. “We want to educate them and show them how to protect their name, reputation and what they do online.”

After entering the FBI-SOS website, students “travel” to their grade-specific island, which includes either seven or eight learning portals to visit. These areas address topics such as the protection of personal information, password strength, cell phone safety, social networking, and online gaming safety. The videos also include real-life stories of kids who have faced cyber bullies and online predators.

The FBI released the pilot program in mid-October. Bradley Middle School was the only CMS school participating during the first semester. J.M. Alexander, Ranson and Druid Hills middle schools are scheduled to participate in the program later in the school year.

“The online scenarios have my students asking questions like, ‘Does this really happen?,’ ‘How can I make sure this does not happen to me?’” said Career and Technical Education (CTE) and business teacher Megan Collins. “They are taken back by what can happen on the Internet.”

Last semester, Collins had 19 students in her class with smartphones. The students without smartphones all had cameras on the phones. Only one student did not have access to a cell phone.

“Parents have to monitor everything their child does online,” said FBI Charlotte Supervisory Special Agent Susan Ostrobinski. “People are thinking its kind-of harsh, but it is reality.”

"A student can think they are chatting with a mutual friend online and it’s a 50-year-old registered child offender. They convince children to send pictures they would never want to send online. That’s when predators begin to groom these kids,” Ostrobinski continued.  

Lynch said the program deals with scenarios that he and other detectives had to investigate.

“They are real life scenarios,” he said.

Sixth-grader Xavier Swain said he is one of the students with a smartphone. He uses it to connect with friends.

“I am not the type to runaway to hang out with people I don’t know. My mom would be mad at me, if I did,” said Xavier. “This course teaches me about being proactive about my safety. I’ve learned a lot about scams and viruses. It’s essentially taught me how to protect myself online.”