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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 EverF.i’s site is at http://www.everfi.com


Community

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

New Italian restaurant opens in Short Pump

Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.

Henrico native to appear on Travel Channel show


A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”

The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.

The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.

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The Fairfield Middle School Fresh Market will be held every Wednesday at the school, 5121 Nine Mile Rd., from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., through Aug. 13. All produce is… Full text

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