Cedarhurst-based Digital Citizenship Project aims to create responsible users of technology


With every technology shift in society new behaviors of living had to be established. When the first newspaper was printed, the first message sent over telegraph, the initial words spoken on a telephone to listening to radio and watching television new cultural norms were set.

It is no different in the 21st century, where a clear majority of people from seniors to grade-schoolers are attached to their electronic devices.

For most adults the question is when it’s rude to check the phone during business meetings or social engagements, and for children there is more of an impact as they are learning how to behave and are most likely not aware how their current behavior could impact future conduct.

What the Cedarhurst-based Digital Citizenship Project proposes to do is teach parents, teachers and students how to use technology to their benefit, while understanding and avoiding the negative impact it could have.

The school-based program directed by Far Rockaway resident Dr. Eli Shapiro was founded nearly four years ago, and since then Digital Citizenship Project has presented its programs to both the adult and student populations of the Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere, Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park and Torah Academy for Girls in Far Rockaway.

“Digital citizenship are the norms of normal, responsible healthy behavior for both kids and family,” Shapiro said. “It’s helping them to understand, be informed and deliberative with technology practices.”

Shapiro said understanding digital responsibility in the technology age should hopefully minimize mistakes such as young people posting inappropriate statements and photos that could harm their educational and professional opportunities, and for adults to eliminate or at least reduce the amount of negative writing on social media.

“Another example is at the corporate level, the anxiety over checking email,” Shapiro said. “When it comes to that, people have to be more self-aware of their behavior by being deliberative. They have to be thinking, then decide. It’s less about the action, and more about the process.”

HAFTR used Digital Citizenship Project programs for the entire school year (2016-17) and had several sessions for all the high school students, said Josh Wyner, the high school’s assistant principal and director of HAFTR’s Center for Student Services. This school year, HAFTR faculty were trained, then tailored the programs specifically for the school based on the provided curriculum.

“We found the Digital Citizenship Project materials to be extensive and well-organized, with information that is very relevant and meaningful for the students,” Wyner said. “Our students were engaged in the program and they found the topics to be thought-provoking, and the strategies to be helpful.”

Rabbi Yisroel Kaminetsky said that DRS had Shapiro speak to the students about two years ago. “He had a very strong message for our kids,” Kaminetsky said. “I think it was beneficial for our kids. The school definitely uses his ideas in the policies that we set for social media use.”

The Digital Citizenship Project website also shows data on the impact of technology on 12- to 14-year old Jewish day school students. “We believe, and the research suggests, that teaching digital citizenship is a critical component of maximizing children’s and adults’ social, psychological, behavioral and day-today well-being,” Shapiro said.