New program promotes safety in digital life

Virginia students will learn the benefits and dangers of the Internet and other technology, and may be drawn to math and science careers, thanks to an online program being offered free to the state’s schools.

“Students today have access to the tools necessary to succeed – computers, the Internet, smartphones. But do they know how to leverage technology in a responsible and safe way?” said Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash. “We owe it to our children and students to teach them how to use technology responsibly.”

Fornash and other officials introduced the program, called My Digital Life, at a press conference at the state Capitol on Thursday.

The computer program teaches students the inner workings of the Internet and how to use technology safely, Gov. Bob McDonnell said. It was created by Neustar Inc., which analyzes the Internet, telecommunications, entertainment, advertising and marketing industries, and EverFi Inc., an education technology company.

The program also aims to spark student interest in jobs that incorporate science, technology, engineering and math. Neustar is providing the program to public schools at no cost to the state, said Lisa Hook, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

Since its development, the Internet has dramatically changed the economy, education and other aspects of society.

“I can’t think in my short 57 years of anything that revolutionized American life more than the Internet,” McDonnell said. “People are just communicating in vastly different ways, and they’re also learning in very different ways.”

The changes haven’t all been positive. Schools, parents and students are concerned about Internet issues of privacy, security, cyberbullying and the irresponsible use of social networks, Fornash said.

The My Digital Life program is a course of about three and a half hours for eighth- and ninth-grade students. Through modules and simulations, it demonstrates how things like emailing, downloading, streaming and websites work, EverFi CEO Tom Davidson said.

As part of the course, students will learn “how to evaluate the risks of posting their personal information online, how to respond to cyberbullying and the obvious dangers of texting and driving,” U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said.

“Our kids are living their lives online, and this is a great new partnership to try to make sure that young people learn how to use the Internet and social media tools in a safer, more positive and responsible way.”

My Digital Life will not be a mandatory part of the state curriculum but rather a voluntary course option at the discretion of superintendents and principals, McDonnell said. “One of the best things we can do is to give young people sort of the no-nonsense pros and cons about Internet and cyberliteracy, and that’s what My Digital Life is all about.”

The initiative ties in with the governor’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, known as the STEM disciplines.

Hook said she hopes My Digital Life leads students to consider careers in STEM fields, such as those as Neustar. The company, which has about 700 employees in Virginia, analyzes and processes phone calls and text messages in North America as well 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic, all on a daily basis, Hook said.

“It takes incredibly talented people with a science, technology, engineering and math background,” Hook said.

There is a growing demand for people with such skills. About 3 million STEM-based jobs are unfilled. By 2017, only 30 percent of all STEM positions will be filled by employees with an American education, Hook said.

“This is not just about digital literacy, and it’s not just about making children feel safe on the Internet,” Hook said. “But it’s teaching them how to conduct business on the Internet, how to set up a business, how to feel comfortable in a digital world and most importantly encourage them to go into STEM.”

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The website for Neustar is http://www.neustar.biz. EverFi’s site is at http://www.everfi.com.
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HCPS wins national honor for overhaul of Code of Student Conduct, supports


Henrico County Public Schools recently was recognized by the National School Boards Association for a sweeping overhaul of the school division’s approach to student supports. HCPS was one of five large U.S. school systems recognized with a first-place honor in the 2017 Magna Awards, presented Saturday in Denver at the organization’s annual conference. The awards recognize school divisions and leaders “for taking bold and innovative steps to improve the lives of students and their communities,” according to the group.

The award recognizes Henrico Schools’ efforts of the past several years, from re-examining its policies to implementing more support systems. After a two-year conversation with the community through public hearings and other feedback, HCPS adopted a revised Code of Student Conduct for the 2015-16 school year. > Read more.

Environmentalists say budget hurts efforts to protect bay

Environmental groups are outraged at the Trump administration’s proposed funding cuts for Chesapeake Bay cleanup programs.

President Donald Trump’s budget plan, released last week, reduces the budget for the federal Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent. That includes a $427 million in funding to address regional pollution, such as the Chesapeake Bay protection efforts. The proposed budget would eliminate funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which received $73 million from the federal government in 2016. > Read more.

Glen Allen ES principal receives REB Award


Melissa Halquist-Pruden, principal of Henrico County’s Glen Allen Elementary School, earned the 2016-17 REB Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership. The Community Foundation presents the award to four principals annually – one each from the school systems of Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties and one from the city of Richmond schools.

The award recognizes principals who go beyond the day-to-day demands of their jobs to create an exceptional educational environment. The award stresses management and communication skills, and the ability to inspire, encourage and advocate for the school. > Read more.

Grant to help Hermitage H.S. upgrade CTE program equipment


Governor Terry McAuliffe announced recently that Henrico County’s Hermitage H.S. will be among 16 high schools and technical centers statewide to receive a grant to upgrade equipment for career and technical education (CTE) programs.

The program gives priority to challenged schools, Governor's STEM Academies and Governor's Health Science Academies. Each school or center will receive $37,500 to purchase new equipment and make other necessary improvements. At Hermitage, the funds will be used for precision machining equipment. > Read more.

Virginia raises a toast to George Washington’s whiskey


George Washington is recognized as the father of our country, but with a bill signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Washington also will be recognized under another title – distiller of Virginia’s official liquor.

SB 1261, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, adds a “state spirit” to the list of the commonwealth’s official emblems and designations and crowns George Washington’s rye whiskey with the title.

The bill, which McAuliffe signed last week, highlights George Washington’s contributions to the culture of Virginia as “a native son of Virginia born on February 22, 1732, in Pope’s Creek”; “the first American president, commander of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention”; and “a model statesman ... universally acknowledged as the father of our nation.” > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Metro Diner to open second Henrico location


Metro Diner, a comfort food concept, will open its second Henrico location next month. The company is accepting job applications for its Libbie Place location at 5626 West Broad Street. The diner concept, known for its fried chicken and waffles, meatloaf, and shrimp and grits, will bring 100 new jobs to the region as it plans to open its doors in April.

The 3,500-square-foot diner located in the Libbie Place Shopping Center will seat more than 100 and serve classic comfort food staples with a twist, such as fried chicken and waffles topped with strawberry butter and a stuffed challah bread French toast with strawberry and blueberry compote. > Read more.

 

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CharacterWorks, a non-profit after-school youth theater program, will present “An Enchanted Evening” to celebrate its 15th anniversary at 6 p.m. at Richmond Marriott Short Pump. Enjoy dinner, dancing, alumni performances and a silent and live auction benefiting CharacterWorks Theatre. Tickets are $85. Black-tie optional. For details, visit http://www.cworkstheater.org/events. Full text

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