At Wood Valley Boys & Girls Club, safety seminar turns students into stars

CLEARWATER — The room, with its mint green walls and hand-painted "Welcome" banners, doesn't look like a movie set.

"Quiet on set!" someone calls out to the actors, a group of elementary schoolers.

A man with a point-and-shoot digital camera films the children.

About 75 children acted in videos about cyber safety and community service Wednesday through an Internet safety seminar hosted by AT&T at the Wood Valley Boys & Girls Club.

The seminar is one of 12 events hosted statewide in AT&T's Youth Broadband Awareness Literacy & Education program, which will also include an event Aug. 2-3 at the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor.

Paula Fillmore-Mateo, AT&T area manager for legislative affairs, came up with the idea for the program. It targets under-served areas that will receive greater broadband access following the company's merger with T-Mobile, she said.

"If they could have access to this technology all the time, what would they do with it?" Fillmore-Mateo asked. "We felt a responsibility to teach them to use technology the proper way."

AT&T employees spoke with the children Wednesday morning about cyberbullying, online stalkers, security and how an online reputation can affect school and jobs. After the presentation, the children split into groups and brainstormed ideas for videos, which were filmed on smartphones and digital cameras by the employees.

Community leaders watched and judged the videos, awarding Walmart gift cards to the top three groups. Leslie Cruz, 11, of Clearwater started to cry when her group's video won first place.

In her group's video, children pretended to shove another child around while a boy took pictures on an iPad. Cruz spoke out against the bullying and told the children to delete the photos.

Her favorite part of shooting the videos? "Getting to use the iPad," she said.

Although two of the videos discussed the importance of community service, the five others focused on online safety. Several of the videos included taking video or photos of a bullying event, and one addressed cyberstalkers.

"We've seen a lot of stories in the press that show kids really getting hurt by cyberbullying," said Andrew Hall, AT&T's regional director for external affairs. "It's important that kids are cognizant of what is out there, what the dangers and risks are."

Molly James, director of development for the Tampa Museum of Art, was one of the four judges. James, who said she has seen the importance of online safety in her own teenagers' lives, said the issue is relevant to children and "for them to understand and act out what happens is great," she said.

Fillmore-Mateo said it's important for young children to develop safe practices early on.

"In every group we've had, what really surprises me is how much they know already," Fillmore-Mateo said, noting that a 7-year-old girl once told presenters, "Sexting is icky."

Katie Park can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or kpark@sptimes.com.

At Wood Valley Boys & Girls Club, safety seminar turns students into stars 07/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:18pm]

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