When the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited for the second time Tuesday, it was a good thing.
For the second year in a row, members of the school’s eighth-grade computer class won the FBI’s national Safe Online Surfing Challenge (SOS), a program designed to educate students about Internet dangers.
Five of the 157 students in the class received an additional award and a bag of FBI merchandise for being the highest-ranked participants in the nation, according to speakers from the FBI.
“I am always searching for new things to do in computers and believe strongly that we need to educate students on how to use the Internet safely,” said Judy McLeod, the computer instructor who helped students through the SOS program. “This program was a perfect addition to the curriculum I use.”
This is the second year that McLeod’s students have ranked highest in the national challenge. The FBI offers the free program, which is a combination of testing and assessment to teach students how to avoid Internet predators and cyber bullying.
Principal Salvatore Tomasello and Superintendent Deborah Flores attended the ceremony to help congratulate the winners.
Following the award presentation, students were given the opportunity to ask questions of an FBI special agent who specializes in online crimes.
One student asked, “Does the FBI really go into chat rooms posing as 13-year-old girls?”
“Yes, and my name is Tiffany,” joked the agent, who asked that his name not be used in this article to help maintain his small online “footprint.”
McLeod asked onstage if the agent could give an example showing how the threat of online predators is very real.
The agent took a more serious tone in his response, describing a case when a man lured a 16-year-old girl from Canada and attempted to force her into his Richmond-based prostitution ring. Agents were able to rescue the girl within six hours, and the man received a 10-year federal prison sentence.
“That’s an actual case—it actually happens, and it all started with a yahoo chat and a naïve young girl with a dream,” he said.
With expected budget cuts in the school district, McLeod said there's a good change she won’t teach her computer class next year. It is the only computer class offered to middle school students in the district, she said.
Her group of seventh-grade students rated second in that grade category for the competition, and the sixth-graders ranked third, she said.
The FBI-SOS program, open to both public and private school students from third to eighth grades, provides monthly training on Internet safety standards in a competitive environment. Approximately 108,000 students in 41 states have participated, the FBI said.
David Montes Jr.