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Student Work: Project – Who’s on the Other Side (Senior)

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, there’s been a 2,781.16% increase in cybertips of suspected online crimes against children in Minnesota between 2010-2021. How might we minimize the risk of child grooming, so that children in Minnesota can safely use the internet in 2021 and beyond? “Who’s on the Other Side?” gets the conversation started on this touchy subject through age-appropriate lessons developed for students in grades 3-12 and adults too! Partnering with other student groups helps to spread the message and sustain efforts to keep personal safety at the forefront of students’ minds when online.

Additional Information
Team: Shyla and Fatuma (Minnesota)
Division: Senior
Competition: 2023 International Conference (Beyonder Award recipient)
Project Elements: This team used our problem-solving process to develop their project proposal. Then they focused on implementing their action plan while documenting their progress in a project report and supporting materials: a portfolio, interview, display, and promotional video.
Evaluation Highlights: At the world finals, students receive feedback from a team of evaluators. See highlights of their feedback for each element at the end of the article.
Original Formatting: See the written deocuments with their original formatting in attached PDFs below.

Supporting materials

Display

While not visible in the photo, the students created two interactive viewing areas on the sides of the display. One side asked the audience to look behind the curtain to see pictures of “who you think you are talking to online”. The curtain revealed photos of beautiful, smiling people. On the other side, the audience peeked to see “who’s really on the other side” with mugshots of people arrested for online crimes against children.

Promotional video

The students of Who’s on the Other Side created an authentic and engaging promotional video. The use of handheld signs, images, and spoken information makes for an effective promotional video.

Portfolio

The students of Who’s On the Other Side? created a bright and colorful portfolio. They share details about their extensive community partnerships and clear information about their project activities.

Proposal

Community Projects Problem Solving Process Step 1

Area of concern

With the monumental increase in global internet use, children having access to devices younger, and the explosion of social media, children online are at higher risk of exploitation by predators. A predator is a person who seeks out at-risk children to gather sexual material. Child grooming is the act of gaining the trust of a child for sexual purposes through manipulation. Grooming can happen between peers or adults to children. An example of child grooming is someone posting as someone they’re not to befriend peers or children to gather sexually explicit images.  

Nationally, approximately 500,000 predators are online daily intentionally seeking children to exploit (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children). NCMEC’s CyberTipline is the national reporting system for online exploitation of children in the United States (US), with the average age of victims between 8-17 years old. According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), there has been a 2,781.16% increase in cybertips of suspected online crimes against children in Minnesota between 2010 (207) – 2021 (5,964). 

Social stigma of being “groomed” and peer pressure keeps victims from reporting. Victims are unsure they’ll be believed or the groomers retaliate. Victims are concerned about their reputations when peers find out what happened. In the Eagan, Minnesota, case of Anton Martynenko, 2 high school boys swung the doors open by reporting incidents and 153 more followed. Anton’s 50 different personas on social media attracted young males, using a fake female model from an agency to entice them to send sexually explicit photos and threaten to post images online.  

Empowering victims and minimizing the risk children face becoming victims can reduce child grooming online through knowledge and experience. US law has not kept up with internet-based crimes. Enforcement of laws of internet-based crimes is challenging because of the number of devices, potential predators, and victims.  

Community Projects Problem Solving Process Step 2

Challenges identified

  1. Since the US does not currently have laws related to online child grooming, such crimes are often placed in other categories for reporting purposes. Accurate data may not be available to show the scope of the problem.  
  2. Often, child grooming cases go unreported because children may think it’s their fault that it happens, thus, children may suffer from mental or emotional problems, making it difficult to function successfully in society as they age.
  3. Because children may not realize they are being groomed, some may continue to let the grooming process happen, thinking the person is their friend. This may contribute to an increase in cases of child grooming.
  4. Child grooming may be uncomfortable for people to discuss, so getting people to listen to victims and respond appropriately may be difficult. This may cause children to avoid sharing what is happening, resulting in not getting the help they need.
  5. The laws on the books have not caught up with the crimes people commit using the veil of the anonymous internet, thus, people rationalize that online child grooming is not really a crime. 
  6. If children are of a certain faith, they can’t speak out because their faith would blame them and tell them not to bring shame to the family. As a result, children may feel like something is wrong with them, causing the grooming to continue.
  7. Child groomers may exploit certain characteristics in their victims, targeting children based on race, ethnicity, or appearance. This puts some children more at risk than others, resulting in the fetishization of the community.
Community Projects Problem Solving Process Step 3

Underlying problem

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), there has been a 2,781.16% increase in cybertips of suspected online crimes against children in Minnesota between 2010-2021. How might we minimize the risk of child grooming, so that children in Minnesota can safely use the internet in 2021 and beyond?

Community Projects Problem Solving Process Step 4

Solution ideas

  1. Apollo Student Union and North JH Student Council members, and their adult supervisors, will educate students and families through school approved messaging systems about how to recognize signs of online grooming to prevent students from being groomed.
  2. Tiffany Thompson from Central Minnesota Child Advocacy Center (CAC) will provide an interactive presentation for students and families to talk about signs of child grooming. This will allow victims to feel their voice is heard and respected.
  3. School Resource Officer Sara Gangle (St. Cloud Police Department) and MN BCA Special Agent Nick Riba will educate our team about the lack of laws and consequences specific to online child grooming. Learning more about the laws will strengthen our knowledge. 
  4. MN Senator Aric Putnam and U.S. Representative Tom Emmer will propose laws to punish online child groomers. This will cause child groomers to face legal consequences and deter others from doing it. 
  5. Our team will inform families about signs/red flags to watch for when their children are online through workshops and videos to engage them in conversation and provide examples.
  6. Internet providers already share information regarding online child grooming happening within their systems and report it to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. NCMEC produces reports of suspected online child exploitation. Our team will share reports with families and St. Cloud school district staff to demonstrate the scope of the problem and why it’s important to talk with students about it.
  7. Our team will utilize learning management systems such as Schoology, SeeSaw, and Google Classroom to distribute resources to students, families, and educators about what child grooming is and how to prevent it. 
  8. Advisory teachers at the junior highs and high schools in St. Cloud will use courses “Ignition” and “Mental Wellness Basics” from the EVERFI Company to impress upon students the ever-growing threat of online predators in order for students to know how to avoid being enticed.
Community Projects Problem Solving Process Step 5

Determination of action plan

CRITERIA-1: Which solution will best protect the largest amount of children from being groomed on the internet?  Best met criteria: Solutions 2-4-5-7-8

Advantages

2-The MN CAC has years of experience working with victims and families. 

4-Stricter laws would decrease the number of predators.  

5-Parents would know how to prevent online grooming by noticing signs. 

7-Learning management systems are utilized nationally by school districts, so what is shared can be replicated easily.  

8-EVERFI courses are an engaging way to get information to students.

Limitations:

2-With only 16 Child Advocacy Centers in Minnesota, some victims don’t live close to a center to receive services easily. 

4-It takes a long time to pass bills into laws. 

5-Parents may get confused what signs are or aren’t child grooming. 

7/8-If families, students or school staff don’t have devices, internet access, or are uncomfortable using technology, they may not be able to access our message.

Unique Opportunities:

2-A partnership with CAC will be more sustainable, with more positive results. 

4-Working with Minnesota State and National legislators will keep the issue in public view. 

5-Parents would feel assured talking to children after gaining knowledge. 

7-Messaging would reach all students, families, and school staff. 

8-Conversations about a sensitive topic are easier to have with a trusted adult in smaller groups.

CRITERIA-2: Which solution will reach the broadest audience to minimize the risk of child grooming?  Best met criteria: Solutions 1-2-4-5-6-7    

Advantages:

1/2-Kids will listen better to student leaders than adults.  Families would listen more to those with field experience. 

5/7-Using school messaging systems to distribute team-created lessons could reach all students and families in the district. 

4-Passing a federal law would bring nationwide attention to the issue.  There also won’t be anywhere in the country that it would be “okay to do”. 

6-Seeing the scope of the issue will inspire conversations about the topic.

Limitations:

1/2-Coordinating schedules with many groups will be difficult and overwhelming for us. 

5/7-People may not check messages we release. 

4-Proposing and passing a law may not deter people from becoming online groomers. 

 6-Up-to-date information may be delayed in getting to families and staff from NCMEC. If data they find online varies from our data, people may distrust information we share.

Unique Opportunities:

1/2-Forming a resource support team will keep the message alive in many places simultaneously. 5/7-Communication systems  information are easily shared with other schools. 4-Knowing our team collaborated with lawmakers to pass a law impacting our nation, reducing the number of victims, would be amazing! 6-NCMEC reports will allow us to demonstrate the scope of this issue.

CRITERIA-3: Which solution will be most utilized by children so that they focus on staying safe online?  Best met criteria: Solutions 1-2-7-8  

Advantages: 

1/7-Schoology/SeeSaw are systems students/families use daily and are familiar with, so messages are easily sent. 

2-People may listen more closely to a person with a title vs. students. 

8-Advisory is required for all students, so everyone will be there.

Limitations:

7/8-Advisory teachers may not show materials shared with students. 

2-The availability of the person from MN CAC would impact how many small vs. large group presentations happen with students, as small groups get best results. 

1-Students may ignore messages.

Unique Opportunities:

1/2/7/8-Approaching students/families in multiple ways will allow us to reach people and best meet their needs developmentally and technologically.

CRITERIA-4: Which solution will be most utilized by parents so that they help their children be safe online?  Best met criteria: Solutions 2-5-6-7  

Advantages

2/6/7-Many parents may not know child grooming is rising.  Seeing facts themselves shows why it’s important to discuss and share data with their children. 

5-Learning red flags supports parents when talking to their children staying safe online.  

Limitations:

2/5/6/7-We desire materials in multiple languages to reach more parents. Some parents cannot read in the language they speak, making written materials insufficient. Translators are needed for presentations and sending verbal messages. Translating is time-consuming.

Unique Opportunities:

2/7-Because CAC has many locations and technology sends messages easily, we will support more families. 

5/6-Sharing NCMEC data provides an opportunity to converse with parents.

The foundation of our action plan to minimize the risk young people face from child grooming is engaging them in conversation, preparing short/informative lessons, educating adults and providing schools with sustainable resources from credible organizations.

Community Projects Problem Solving Process Step 6

Action plan

SHORT TERM: October-December 2021

STRATEGYTASK DESCRIPTIONSINTENDED IMPACT
Gathering knowledgeResearch potential resources to connect with virtually or in personGuide project decisions to create plans based on data gathered
Develop resource libraryCreate an archive of relevant information and organizationsShare archive with others and use information when preparing lessons and presentations
Interact with service peopleEstablish a connection and interact with people and organizations to gather informationProvide sustainable resource for future use by other school districts

MEDIUM TERM: January-May 2022

STRATEGYTASK DESCRIPTIONSINTENDED IMPACT
Connect with new resourcesAnalyze data gathered from initial meetings to seek out new connectionsAccumulate more resource people to place in project archive
Focus on student engagement with topicUse information and ideas gathered to create lesson plans and materials for student activitiesProvide students with tools they can use in the future to reduce their risk of being groomed
Develop implementation plan for 2022-2023 school yearExamine school structures to decide how project plans fit into existing structures to maximize outreachBlend our project activities into schools plans to minimize stress of “adding one more thing”

LONG TERM: June 2022-June 2023

STRATEGYTASK DESCRIPTIONSINTENDED IMPACT
Confirm project schedule with schoolsFinalize plans with appropriate school staffReach largest number of ISD742 students possible
Discuss topic at Open House/Family eventsHost booth to share knowledge and resources to families in attendanceGet the word out about our project to begin the conversation
Gather participant feedbackSurvey participants in classes, family events, etc.Improve project materials to prepare for sharing with other schools by analyzing responses
Share project archiveReview archive, share with interested schools- ensure electronic accessCredible, sustainable resources to share with schools so they can inform students about grooming

Report

Relevance

To minimize the risk of child grooming, Who’s on the Other Side? (WOTOS) focused on starting the conversation on this tough topic, providing credible resources to schools, support in identifying child grooming, teaching warning signs to students, staff, and families, and gathering information on the support system available for (potential) victims of this horrible crime.

People need to know what something is if they are to avoid it – common sense tells us that. Our team was SHOCKED to find that the majority of people we spoke with (outside of those working in this field) did NOT know what child grooming was!! North JH Principal Brian Nutter shared with us that he couldn’t tell us what it truly was – he had an idea, but he wasn’t sure and was glad we taught him what it is. Learning this inspired us to develop the first WOTOS lesson – WHAT IS CHILD GROOMING?.

To prepare lessons for students, our research found many materials that were either outdated or not age appropriate. Patty Wetterling and Alison Feigh (Jacob Wetterling Resource Center) encouraged us to use educational materials from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to develop materials to share with St. Cloud Area School District 742 (ISD742). NCMEC is a credible organization that schools know they can trust to provide them with appropriate materials to use with students. Teaching the red flags are essential parts of our lessons to help students, staff, and families identify potential child grooming situations in order to exit them quickly!!

Alison Feigh spoke about how groomers try to remove people from their target’s life, thereby reducing the support their victims have. Youth need five stable people in their lives that they know they can count on and won’t be easily removed by groomers. Tiffany Thompson (Child Advocacy Center) shared ideas and CAC resources that we could share with anyone and encouraged us to teach people how to report what is happening to minimize the risk of a young person becoming a victim of child grooming.

Activities planned for after April 28, 2023, include hosting a table at a Family Night at North JH, promote Walk Together MN to support to victims’ services the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center by Shear Dynamics Salon, collaborating with Life Smarts teachers on additional WOTOS lessons, finalizing the upload of resources and information in our Google Drive and seeking out appropriate ISD742 leaders to request permission to add reporting child grooming to school websites.

Organization

Being a small team, we completed the majority of project work together – brainstorming, connecting with potential resources, researching, developing meeting agendas/email templates, speaking to others about child grooming/WOTOS at events, etc. Fatuma focused on writing the report, collaborating with Apollo HS student groups (Diversity Club), and starting meetings with resource people. Shyla spearheaded creating the portfolio, developing the lesson format, and collaborating with North JH student groups (Student Council/Where Everybody Belongs (W.E.B.)). In creating lessons, Shyla (8th grade) focused on JH students and Fatuma (11th grade) focused on HS students. For lessons in grades 3-5, we both provided ideas and resources based on experiences with our younger siblings. 

Gathering assets for WOTOS was important to our success because there are only two of us! For example, Bangaly Kaba and Ifrah Aden, two Student Ambassadors to the Minnesota Future Problem Solving Program Board of Directors, and Gabby Gorder, North JH W.E.B. Leader, supported us at open house events by talking to guests about the program and WOTOS. Having their support doubled the number of people our team could reach with our message! Partnering with other student groups, such as Student Council and Diversity Club, at our schools provided us with more hands and voices to promote project events, get people talking about the topic, and gather feedback from others.

Resources

Many contacts helped us connect with more people/organizations to gather resources. Patty Wetterling brought us Alison Feigh, Jacob Wetterling Resource Center Director, and NCMEC resources. NetSmartz is an online library of curriculum, handouts, and videos to teach young people how to be safe online. It provided information that aided us in creating our lesson plans to share with school staff.

Sara Gangle, North JH School Resource/St. Cloud Police Officer, confirmed that we should reach out to Special Agent Nick Riba at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), who provided us with current data related to child grooming in Minnesota and the United States. Elizabeth Stinebaugh from Minnesota U.S. Representative Tom Emmer’s office also searched for current legislation on child grooming.  Stinebaugh, Gangle and Riba confirmed that there are currently NO state or federal laws for this crime. 

Minnesota Senator Aric Putnam has been our cheerleader! He connected WOTOS to 7th Judicial District Chief Judge Sarah Hennesy to gain legal insight into the law side of this topic. Current laws do not specifically address child grooming or offer sufficient punishments to deter people from committing this horrible crime! Senator Putnam advised us about groups that would actually respond to us with the information or resources we were seeking. Senator Putnam also gave us direct contact information for Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall to gather a local perspective on the scope of this problem. Even though she was not able to meet with us, she encouraged us to continue our connection with Senator Putnam and Patty Wetterling.

Brian Nutter (North JH Principal), Sascha Hansen and Tracy Hare (North JH Assistant Principals) and Justin Skaalerud (Apollo HS Principal) provided us with the proper procedure for sending out our student surveys, gave us feedback on our action plan, and connected us to ISD742 district level staff, Shannon Avenson (Director of Student Services) and Ryan Cox (Director of Technology). Shannon Avenson reviewed our survey draft and gave advice on how to keep lessons age appropriate for such a wide range of students. She described what Minnesota educational standards are met with certain types of lessons in Advisory-type classes and that our project would fit right into that plan. Ryan Cox explained the process ISD742 uses to provide the highest safety level possible on managed student devices, the importance of using age appropriate content, and the Securly program that blocks inappropriate forums. He also spoke to us about how easy it is to find information about people online in a little as 10 clicks.

Through research, we discovered the CentraCare Child Advocacy Center (CAC) and reached out for more information since it’s located in our community. Tiffany Thompson, CAC Forensic Interviewer, met with us, shared resources to use with younger children and adults and taught us what mandated reporters in schools can/cannot do.

North JH Student Council members, W.E.B. Leaders from NJH, Minnesota FPSP Student Ambassadors, and Apollo HS Diversity Club group served as assets to WOTOS in multiple ways. During the open house, they volunteered at our booth to help answer questions and support us. For #WearBlueDay, North Student Council members assisted with hanging up posters, made sure to wear blue and remind their friends too.

Kaitlin Opdahl, North Life Smarts teacher, graciously agreed to teach our lessons to her 8th graders to get student responses to our survey (pre-test) and the materials we prepared. Her feedback was vital in knowing how to adapt our lessons to better fit the students – what worked and what didn’t. Maya, a victim of child grooming, came to us through North staff member, Teresa Figallo. Maya gave us a firsthand account of what child grooming is, how it starts and what can happen after it’s reported. Maya wanted us to share her story and use her name because it is the story she wants other young people to hear and learn from. Maya helped us understand that there is a big problem with how law enforcement handles child grooming. In her FBI interview, she felt like she had messed up and not the guy that had groomed her. The agents really didn’t give her the support she needed; they said she could have money and it’d be better. Speaking to her made us consider the level of trauma a victim experiences and the impact it has on daily life.

Community impact

The positive effects of our Action Plan on stakeholders include well-informed community members, consistent messaging for students in middle level Life Smarts course, starting tough conversations and honoring the work of Patty Wetterling with a new generation of learners. Having both a JH and HS student on our team brought an understanding in how to speak to our target audience more than an adult could.

Well-informed community members learned from resources we developed and shared as well as public access resources from credible organizations like NCMEC. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children consistently updates materials they offer to educators and the general public and inspired our lesson creation too! Our target audience was students in elementary, middle and high schools, but we made a point to include adults (staff/family) as well. Adults need to be educated along with students so that positive discussions could happen with adults feeling comfortable discussing this topic, so it wouldn’t be awkward. Since everyone in school uses the internet daily, our lessons taught them the warning signs, which helped them avoid potentially dangerous situations and know what to do if something happens.

Consistent messaging for middle level students in the Life Smarts course was important because students need to be exposed to a variety of topics but given current, accurate information. Providing materials to already overwhelmed staff – with little for them to do to prepare to teach it in class – makes for a less stressed-out, happier teacher that is more than willing to teach about a tough but essential topic. Shorter lessons for students will make a bigger impact and be easier to implement in schools. Life Smarts is taught at all 3 middle level programs (North, South, Kennedy) in ISD742, so our message will be shared with all 8th graders at those schools (≈530 students). 

Starting the conversation on a difficult topic during a turbulent time in our country and ISD742 gave students and staff alike an opportunity to learn about how to minimize students’ risk of being groomed online by being alert to red flags as well as providing a stepping stone for parents in talking with their own kids or for school staff in talking with and observing students.  

After her son Jacob’s kidnapping and murder in 1989, Patty Wetterling (St. Joseph, Minnesota resident) devoted her life to helping missing & exploited children, their families, and anyone wanting to learn what to do to help. She shared that this topic is still now – even more so because of increased technology use – super important to talk and teach about. People across the United States know who she is and all that she and her family have done. Raising awareness to a new generation of ISD742 students of Patty’s work will continue the message she puts out. Patty loved that Who’s on the Other Side? is students preparing something for students!

Community involvement

We established strong partnerships with our community through sharing what we were doing, asking for input and advice, and providing periodic updates. The FPS categories guided us when we were seeking resource people and organizations to meet or conduct interviews with. Focusing on gathering credible resources that schools and staff would trust was essential to our creation of lessons and curriculum materials because we wanted to demonstrate that what we were sharing could be trusted and was made using information from reliable sources. Technology played a big role in making sure our lessons were and continue to be sustainable, easily shareable with others, and updated with little effort. It was a way for us to be proactive versus reactive by using tools that many people, especially educators, are comfortable using. 

Our outreach was demonstrated through local, state and national connections. The curriculum and resource shared archive we created includes materials from local, state and national resources such as the WJON news station in St. Cloud, MN, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, NetSmartz and the CentraCare Child Advocacy Center in St. Cloud, MN. Despite not gaining approval for a district-wide survey of middle and high school students, we chose to include a pre-test in the Life Smarts lessons as a way to gather anonymous student data. Gathering assets for the team to share with the community, students and families that will reach well beyond ISD742 shows that other student groups are just as concerned about child grooming as our team and want to help at school events!

Effectiveness of action plan

With slight adjustments, the plan was effective in reaching the goals of the project to provide a self-sustaining way to minimize students’ risk of being groomed online through engaging, informative activities and include adults in the learning process. The target audience for WOTOS is students ages 8-17, especially those with school-issued devices that give them daily internet access. This age group is at the highest level of risk for being groomed online because of their  increased internet use and the explosion of social media. Minnesota is shockingly the third-highest rated in the U.S. for prostitution/child sexual exploitation and the city of St. Cloud (where our own schools are) has been rated 2nd highest in Minnesota. Because of this, we chose to utilize our fellow students when implementing our Action Plan while still gathering local, state and national resources.

To minimize the risk of child grooming for students and overcome many of the challenges identified, our team chose to focus on teaching students what child grooming is because they may not realize they are being groomed and may continue to let the grooming process happen, thinking the person is their friend. Recognizing red flags, giving reasons to pause when posting online and getting conversation started on this tough topic are important for students and adults to know in order to stay safe online. By sharing both local and national cases of child exploitation (grooming, pornography, etc.), students, staff and families are able to see the true scope of our Area of Concern and learn how to take steps to prevent child grooming from happening to them or their children.

Providing information on support networks available locally and nationally helps empower victims, families, and school staff with how to handle reports of child grooming or to determine if a child has been or is being groomed. Locally, the CentraCare Child Advocacy Center provides services and support to victims and their families in one-stop setting. Victims receive services and work with law enforcement in one place – they do not need to go to many different places to deal with the crime. Nationally, NCMEC provides resources and information about other agencies that can help in different states in the U.S. EXCITING NEWS came out on February 27, 2023, with the launch of Take It Down on the NCMEC website!! This service is being offered in partnership with Meta in an effort to remove nude, partially nude and sexually explicit photos or videos of youth under age 18 online.

Adaptation of plan

Effective problem solving skills were utilized and honed by unforeseen circumstances (denial of district-wide survey). Instead we decided to gain feedback from Life Smarts classes and at open house events. This created more participation and the opportunity for a closer look into the minds of youth. During the process of brainstorming ideas to create our lessons/curriculum, we realized that using more resources from credible organizations would have a larger impact on the way our lessons are viewed, making them more trustworthy and accurate. Originally the team planned to create a new activity month-by-month, though due to the fluidity of meetings and research, we instead chose to create activities on the same 5 themes that would be appropriate to grades 3-5, middle school, and high school. We decided to include resources that provide the opportunity to extend lessons learned if a school so chooses. 

After modifying a small portion of our Action Plan, we were able to focus more on gathering information and sharing our resources efficiently. Then, we discovered that NCMEC changed the sharing format of their free resources!!! Previously NCMEC had shared their resources with downloadable pdf documents or PowerPoint presentations. Now, they are in Google Drive organized by topic. We found it ironic that NCMEC began sharing their resources in a similar fashion we decided to use to share what we created.

Solution #8: Advisory teachers at the junior highs and high schools in St. Cloud will use courses “Ignition” and “Mental Wellness Basics” from the EVERFI Company to impress upon students the ever-growing threat of online predators in order for students to know how to avoid being enticed. Implementation of these courses in Advisory had to be set aside because ISD742 shortened the junior high advisory class time to just 15 minutes and the high schools do not have advisory anymore. Further research into the EVERFI also showed us that the courses didn’t go deep enough into the topic and share current trends and data about child grooming.

Since the project proposal was submitted, a new solution has come to light.  Inspired by the addition of the National Suicide Center (988) to ISD742 student identification cards, a new solution would be adding a direct link to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s website for reporting cyber crimes against children like child grooming on the ISD742 website and school websites as well. Students and families are accustomed to the use of the district website, so this solution would increase access to that support.

Sustainability of project impact

When creating Who’s On The Other Side?, our team focused on the sustainability of lessons, curriculum and resources we are leaving behind. Sharing our information with parents, teachers and ISD742 via a resource library on Google Drive allowed us to make sure that many people had gained access to the resources. After moving onto our next CmPS project topic, ISD742 can assume ownership of our shared drive and be able to continue using what we have created. A key resource we’re leaving behind is a contact list of local, state, and national level resources that staff can share with students and their families should the need arise.

Collaboration with North JH Student Council/WEB leaders (hosting booths at events), and Spirit of North Parent/Teacher Organization (share lessons), and Apollo HS Diversity Club (promote Walk Together), will aid us in spreading the information to our target audience. Involving other groups in the discussions will continue to give new insight into what is happening with young people when they are online.

Implementing our lessons in the Life Smarts courses at North JH, South JH and Kennedy Community School will increase the number of students in ISD742 that will hear our message and become conscientious about what they’re doing while chatting online to minimize their risk of being groomed. Having all middle level students hear what we have to say about this very important topic will reach even more people because we know how kids talk!

Reflection/assessment

The WOTOS Google Drive of resources (lessons, events, contacts, etc.) is an accomplishment that will sustain our message long beyond our direct involvement and be simple for our school district to maintain and share with other school districts. #WearBlueDay was really successful, especially at North JH, in sparking discussion and inquiry about child grooming because students wanted to know more. Sharing information about the support network available to victims of child grooming with ISD742 staff will provide community support for students and families if child grooming happens.  

Raising awareness of what child grooming is at open house events gives us the chance to meet families and students, collaborate with student groups at both local and state levels and get people talking about child grooming and how to prevent it! While we appreciated the opportunity to connect with families at these events, we wish that ISD742 would allow us to do more than just have a booth at an event. Despite this challenge, we do understand that we must respect decisions made by district leadership.

Creating a survey was the easiest way for us to gather information from our target audience, but we relied on it heavily at the beginning and didn’t realize all the other methods available to gather feedback. Research took much longer than anticipated because of the many resources we connected with and the severity of the issue. People were often reluctant to talk about this “touchy” subject.

Evaluation highlights

Here are highlights from the evaluation team about the project:

Overall

  • This is a courageous and bold project, and you are to be commended for taking on such a difficult topic – difficult for kids to talk about, raises terror in parents’ hearts, and an absolute necessity for parents, teachers, and kids to be aware of. A salute of honor to WOTOS for your bravery.
  • The amount of commitment and networking in this project is phenomenal. Way to go, WOTOS, you are definitely a dynamic duo. 
  • Do I understand correctly that there’s two of you creating this whole project? Wow!
  • Timely project with some innovative thinking and a willingness to take on difficult subject matter!

Portfolio

  • Great design that tells your story well – this helps round out the project to present a fully developed support of your project. Wonderful effort and a testament to your hearts and minds for community problem solving. OUTSTANDING!!!

Promotional Video

  • Very good promotional video with an eye on audience engagement with good editing, music, and creativity.

Display

  • Very nice display that showcases all phases of your project and does a good job telling your story.

Interview

  • You both know how to start a difficult conversation and you display that you both have the tenacity to follow through even when you encounter bumps – you both have such wonderful resilience. You showed wonderful poise, knowledge, and confidence – just an outstanding interview.

Report

  • Very positive project with potential for great impact. 
  • The report is sufficient to describe your project, but I get the feeling something is missing that would clearly tell your story better. 

Proposal

  • Wow! This is a bold and very timely topic to tackle, you are to be commended for taking on this project. You mention Minnesota so this implies that your community is the entire state of Minnesota, which is even more bold if you attempt to solve this problem for the entire state. The one example of a predator is powerful and helps to paint the picture of the need for action. A more in depth discussion explaining would help to fill in the complete picture of the problem in Minnesota. You did a good job in relaying the importance of this problem. 
  • The challenges you have identified are well written and convey your understanding of the issue well. A deeper dive into the problem solving process could have yielded a more comprehensive look at the related problems. The ideas you have are quite perceptive – way to go! 
  • Nicely written and well crafted underlying problem that could guide your project to a successful outcome. Because you have chosen the entire state of Minnesota as your community, “reduce risk” would be a better choice of KVP because minimizing risk for every child on the internet in Minnesota is a behemoth to solve and hard to measure. A very clear and concise statement that can lead to good solutions.
  • Nice brainstorming, Team! You have developed some really good solution ideas.
  • Very interesting method of analysis that tests each solution, absolutely outstanding analysis. How you arrived at your action plan is not clear, how you pulled those segments you chose to work on out of the analysis needs some explanation.
  • Good organization of ideas in the chart. This is a good plan and shows you have thought through the enormity of the situation and chose to take two years to make sure the plan succeeds – this shows incredible determination and insight. Bravo!

Disclaimer: Student work and evaluator comments may have been adjusted by Future Problem Solving for privacy and clarity.

Attachment – Proposal

Attachment – Report

Attachment – Portfolio+

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April Michele

April Michele Bio

Executive Director

A seasoned educator, April Michele has served as the Executive Director since 2018 and been with Future Problem Solving more than a decade. Her background in advanced curriculum strategies and highly engaging learning techniques translates well in the development of materials, publications, training, and marketing for the organization and its global network. April’s expertise includes pedagogy and strategies for critical and creative thinking and providing quality educational services for students and adults worldwide.

Prior to joining Future Problem Solving, April taught elementary and middle grades, spending most of her classroom career in Gifted Education. She earned the National Board Certification (NBPTS) as a Middle Childhood/Generalist and later served as a National Board Assessor for the certification of others. She was trained and applied the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) in Humanities, which helped widen the educational scope and boundaries beyond the U.S. In addition, April facilitated the Theory and Development of Creativity course for state level certification of teachers. She has also collaborated on a variety of special projects through the Department of Education.

A graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s in Elementary Education and the University of South Florida with a master’s in Gifted Education, April’s passion is providing a challenging curriculum for 21st century students so they are equipped with the problem solving and ethical leadership skills they need to thrive in the future. As a board member in her local Rotary Club, she facilitates problem solving in leadership at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). She is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute and earned her certificate in Nonprofit Management from the Edyth Bush Institute at Rollins College.