Cyber Civics: Digital Citizenship in a Global Community

In Waldorf schools, we are often asked, “What do we do about screen time? Social media? Cell phones?”

The answers to these questions shift as the children get older, and by middle school, exploring possible answers may best be done by the students themselves.

No matter how screen-free we make their early years, our students are growing up in a world that is increasingly and undeniably linked to digital platforms and devices. Learning how and when to best use these new resources is so much more important and valuable than denying they exist or keeping them away from today’s young people.

This education must be brought to the students in a manner that meets them where they are and shows them what they can really do. With that in mind, I am thrilled to share some insight with you all as to our new Cyber Civics curriculum!

Cyber Civics is a program that was developed by Diana Graber, a media psychologist who at the time was a middle-school parent at the Journey School, a Waldorf charter in California. She recognized the huge increase in digital access and platforms that seemed to be inundating middle school existence, that these weren’t going away anytime soon, and that denying this wasn’t helping anyone.

Instead, students needed the tools and know-how to safely navigate the realms of social media, information sharing, and on online research. Together with teachers and tech experts, she created a three-year Cyber Civics curriculum, ideal for grades 6-8. There are now dozens of schools around the country utilizing Cyber Civics, with wonderful results.

Cyber Civics and Cedarwood are a great fit, and the timing to bring them together couldn’t be better.

Last spring, we launched the endeavor by introducing the Cyber Civics Mini curriculum to the 7th & 8th graders. This is a series of 5 key lessons from the Year 1: Digital Citizenship curriculum, taking the students through explorations of what it means to be a digital citizen:

  • When and why to post on social media

  • How your online persona can affect or influence your in-person perception and reputation

  • how to be an “upstander” against cyber bullying and hate speech

Some of the most profound conversations came out of these lessons, and many of the students would continue discussions into their lunch break or after school. As a teacher, I felt inspired and fortunate to get to provide material and hold the space for these conversations and connections to be made.

Over the summer, several of our recent graduates already recognized the benefits of Cyber Civics lessons they received, and they provided wonderful feedback to their families and to the school. Our students know what a gift it is to be part of the beautiful Cedarwood community. As they reach 8th grade, they recognize how important it is to represent themselves well to those looking on. Through years of guidance and encouragement, we bring them the tools they need to be upstanding members of this community.

In this same vein, Cyber Civics recognizes and celebrates what it means to be a digital citizen in the global community accessible through the internet and social media. There is both privilege and responsibility inherent to safe and successful interactions on social media. As they learn to be upstanding citizens in this new online community, they also learn to recognize and even counteract the negative words and actions of others.

This fall and winter, our current 8th grade will work through the Year 2: Information Literacy curriculum, which builds on themes from Year 1 of private versus public information sharing, while also examining the students’ “digital diets” and bringing in knowledge of how to conduct effective online research. In addition to Cyber Civics, students will also receive instruction in typing and general online navigation, on Cedarwood’s new classroom set of Chromebooks!

In late winter and spring, our current 7th grade will work through the Year 1: Digital Citizenship curriculum, and begin typing as well.

I cannot describe how glad and thankful I am that this work gets to be a part of what I bring to our students.

To go into detail about the wonderfully rich curriculum would take a whole newsletter in itself; lucky for you and me, there is a fantastic Cyber Civics website, a book written by Diana Graber, and even a parent newsletter put out by Cyber Civics! No matter if you have a middle-schooler or a babe in arms, I encourage you to take a peek at these great resources!

Claire Harrison is what you might call a Waldorf lifer. She attended the Portland Waldorf School for fifteen years, and though her daydreaming nine-year-old self would be shocked to hear it, she graduated high school determined not to be a teacher. However, by the time she graduated from undergrad, she was committed to pursuing a career in Waldorf teaching and accepted the position of First Grade Assistant to the Class of 2016 (who would later be her 8th graders!). She has worn many hats at both Cedarwood and PWS since 2008, and received her MEd in Elementary Education with a Waldorf Certificate from Antioch University NE while teaching full time. Now serving as the Educational Support Specialist, Mrs. Harrison greatly enjoys working with students in every grade, helping them find true success in their time here at Cedarwood and beyond.