Taking Charge of Virtual Safety, One Class at a TIme

By Sara Porcaro | Dec 14, 2021
Providence Police Department, Rhode Island, Disabilities, Internet Safety, IDD
Senior Director Christine Hathaway, Peer Navigator Deanne Gagne, Officer Mike Matracia, and Intern Mario

It's everywhere--in your house, on your T.V. and gaming systems, in your workplaces and schools. It's even right in your pocket: the whole World Wide Web, there at your fingertips at any time. We might take it for granted now, how we can send a message to someone on the other side of the globe in just a minute, or learn about any topic we want with just a few keywords tapped into the Google search bar. But where there's opportunity for connection, there's also opportunity for danger: scammers, viruses, and more. That's why the Internet Safety Course hosted by Senior Director Christine Hathaway and Peer Navigator Deanne Gagne has been a hit with individuals looking to stay secure in their internet browsing!
This class was held weekly at the Providence Police Station, in their auditorium--a space organized for students by Officer Michael (Mike) Matracia. Its curriculum is one that meets the needs and questions of its students while also focusing on important themes; it shows individuals how to take control of their social media platforms and see potential red flags when interacting with new people online. The class also gave practical information on how to use the safety features to keep their virtual spaces safe and comfortable, walking them through the menus, options, and capabilities of social media platforms we all love. Participants came from all over, too, as individuals receiving supports from Perspectives, and several others, came to learn all they could.
"We want to tell people about not just the dangers, but the benefits of the internet, too," Deanne says. "There are a lot of great things about the internet, so we don't want to discourage anyone from using it; we just want to help everyone be safe."
"There are a lot of great things about the internet, so we don't want to discourage anyone from using it; we just want to help everyone be safe."

The Origins of the Internet Safety Class

Originally, the idea for the class began in late 2018, though the details of how and where to host it took some time to iron out. Then, when the pandemic came in 2020 and in-person classes were no longer safe, many things were put on hold for the time being as people focused on staying safe in other ways. But given that so many of our favorite things to do happen through the internet, and given how much more access to the internet the pandemic brought on, the idea of the class officially became a reality this autumn, as individuals were more interested than ever in making sure they didn't have any bad experiences while enjoying their iPads and other technology.
"I have a phone and a Chromebook, and I'm on Facebook for friends, so I want to make sure I'm being safe when I'm getting in touch with people," says one student, Domenic. "I want to stay informed on viruses and my online safety no matter what."
Likewise, Anne notes, "I like to go on my iPad, so I definitely don't want to be visiting any bad sites or getting into trouble while I'm on it."

Coming Together for New Connections and Valuable Information

Each week, spirits were high, faces friendly, and it made an already informative class that much more of a treat during the colder months. Being able to hear from their local police officers, including Commander Thomas A. Verdie, Deputy Chief of Police, and Sergeant Steven E. Courville from the Mounted Command, was also exciting, especially as Sergeant Steven also invited everyone to visit the horse stables at Roger Williams Park after visiting the students. The officers, working on the force for so long, had plenty of their own stories to share about what could go wrong when surfing the web or talking to people--especially people one doesn't know in person. At the last class, they even had the opportunity to take the same cyber security quiz that police officers take to stay up to date on virtual safety protocol, as Commander Verdi shared it with the class for them to test their skills with.
"There's so much access to everything and everyone these days," says Mike, "and so many ways to get taken advantage of. That's why it's important everyone knows how to stay safe online."
As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and no doubt it's empowering to be able to browse the internet with confidence! With their last class today, we know the students are walking away with a wealth of information thanks to Christine and Deanne's holistic, informative curriculum, and we know they're leaving with plenty of great memories of their time together, too. And of course, we're also giving many thanks to the Providence Police Department for providing a space for students to learn about internet safety, and for coming in to teach and chat with students themselves! Now, with only a couple weeks left of 2021, we know it's time for everyone to kick back and relax--all while safely enjoying all the internet has to offer.


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