Do you really know what your child is doing on that iPad?
All Jackson Hole Middle School students have iPads for educational purposes, but last year some parents complained the devices were being misused at home. In response, Teton County School District No. 1 is using a new filter, called Securly, with a parent app for home monitoring this year.
Parents can use their portion of the platform to restrict access to websites at home, like social media, and track browsing and search history for inappropriate or potentially dangerous topics. Teachers, counselors, other staff and administrators also can see, in a report or in real time, what students are browsing and searching.
“It’s not just about self-harm and bad things; often times it’s gaming sites,” said Diane Woodard, tech director and assistant principal at the middle school. “That’s not necessarily bad, but that’s not what we want them doing when we have academic activities going on. They need to understand that this is an educational device. If they want access to those games and such they need to have a different device.”
As the school district continues to use technology at all levels, with a 1-to-1 student-device ratio at the middle and high schools, staffers say they’re adapting to the devices and how they’re used. Last year iPads didn’t always work properly when students tried to log onto them at home.
The state provides a filter called Lightspeed for all the district’s devices. It worked on laptops, which high schoolers have, at home. But the district ran into problems at the middle school level, where each student has an iPad. Things like Google Drive and Google Docs weren’t always available.
“It would block them from resources they needed,” Woodard said.
Parents also wanted more control over the devices when students were at home on the internet.
“Once you go out onto the web, that opens things up,” Woodard said. “You’ve got to have a filter in place to follow them for lots of reasons.”
Kids can’t install their own apps on the district devices — they are loaded with educational apps and that’s it.
“We can’t allow somebody else to install something on our device and have it end up not working,” Woodard said. “First and foremost, it needs to work at school. We have our iPads locked down pretty tight.”
The new app will come pre-installed on devices. Parents can learn how to use it during parent information nights this fall.
Securly, a student safety company, approached the district. It’s a filter the state is considering too, Woodard said, which could lower the per-student cost dramatically. The district paid roughly $3,800 for this year.
What sold her is that teachers and parents have separate access as part of the filter.
“Let’s say they decide, ‘My child’s watching YouTube videos for two hours a night. I don’t want them to do that,’” Woodard said. “They would have control on this app. But additionally, they have control over seeing what kids are browsing. If there are some self-harm issues — that’s a national issue — they can track that.”
The filter was installed on 10 middle school students’ devices last year as a test.
“It worked pretty well,” Woodard said.
There’s a notification system built in if students are searching for anything unsafe. An algorithm can go deeper than just buzzword searches of things like “cutting” or “shooting.”
“There’s a system built in that will alert us,” Woodard said. “You know, it’s not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s a starting point.”
She’s confident in the security of the platform.
“There are a lot of filters out there that rise to the top,” Woodard said. “Securly is one of them.”
Parents stay involved
Parent Jess Yeomans said she takes a “step back” approach normally so her children are more engaged in their own education and tech use. But she likes the idea of Securly in theory, especially since parents are “kind of forced to let our kids have these iPads whether we like it or not.”
“I think they will probably be able to get really good info on it,” she said of the school district. “I could see myself potentially checking it out once in awhile, maybe not obsessively.”
Yeomans let her son, a seventh-grader, have “Instagram training wheels” recently with his own account, but under her phone so she can always take a peek.
“I just want to be aware of what kinds of things he’s being exposed to,” she said.
Wilson resident Andy King said his kids and others he knows usually use personal devices at home.
“The touch screens are great for digesting content that exists elsewhere, but in terms of creating content, unless it’s art it just doesn’t work nearly as well as a laptop or a home computer does,” King said.
He has an eighth-grade son at Jackson Hole Middle School and a sophomore at the Jackson Hole Community School. He monitors all of their devices to a certain extent.
“Monitoring screen time is important as a parent, and the rule in our family is, if a parent asks to see the device you’re using, we can see it any time we want,” King said.
Other tech improvements
Jackson Hole Middle School has made other tech-related changes since last year. Cellphones aren’t allowed in classrooms during school and the expectation is, at least, that personal devices are left in student lockers.
One big change was turning off the AirDrop feature. There’s no history on that function, which means it’s impossible to track and picture sharing could be abused.
“As technology changes we’ll continue to pursue what’s best for our kids and what works best for Jackson Hole Middle School as a 1-to-1 school,” Woodard said.
A bigger change is making the commons area a tech-free zone in the morning before school starts.
Yeomans said she’s excited for students to interact with one another, not their phones. She hates to ask her son who he sat next to on the bus and have him tell her everybody was just on their iPad the whole time.
“It’s just sad,” she said. “But I think we’re all just learning it as we go.”