Digital citizenship workshop offered encouragement, warnings

By Elsa Baughman
MADISON – Paul Sanfrancesco, a consultant for Sadlier Publishing, was invited by the diocesan offices of Education, Child Protection and Faith Formation to present “Catholic Citizenship in the Digital Age,” to pastors, DRE/CREs, youth ministers, teachers, principals, lay ecclesial ministers, parents and catechists at St. Joseph School on Saturday, Oct. 3.
Sanfrancesco started with an overview of apps and social media channels available today. He said that today’s technology is overwhelming and that many people, including teachers, are apprehensive about it, but, he told participants, “you know faith formation, you know how to be a parent, how to be a good Christian. Nothing has changed, the foundation of everything we believe in still applies to technology.”
Sanfrancesco who is also an adjunct professor in the graduate education department at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and Neumann University in Aston, Pa., advised participants to not be afraid to use it. “Embrace it and learn its value in education. Go to YouTube to watch a video, use Twitter. If you don’t know how to use it, ask your children, grandchildren, a neighbor or a friend to show you.”
“When reaching out to your children on social media, how you communicate is going to be key to them,” he said, noting that children need to hear encouraging messages from their parents and teachers. “Give them positive feedback, thumbs-up in Facebook. It’s great because they are receiving something that the TV generation didn’t.” Words like, ‘good job,’ and ‘I love you’ mean a lot to them,” he said.
There are some pitfalls to modern digital life. As a cautionary tale, he told the story of a 22-year-old senior at a university in Pennsylvania studying to be a high school English teacher. Two weeks before graduation she posted a picture on her Facebook page in which she appeared drinking from a cup and wearing a Halloween pirate hat. The caption reads, “drunken pirate.”
When the university found out, she was denied the teaching degree and teaching certificate. She sued the university and lost. In Pennsylvania, every educator or student teacher  has to sign an ethics and morality clause that reads, “I will be a responsible, model citizen when I am teaching young adults in the schools in Pennsylvania.” Her profile picture violated this clause.
He said people in some professions such as teachers, doctors, clergy, lawyers and law enforcement, can’t have this kind of post, ever. “Even if the picture is in social media for just a minute, it’s always going to be there, you lose ownership of it.”
He warned, “we live in a world today where everybody is constantly judging you and sometimes assumptions lead to reality, even if the statement is not true.”
Sanfrancesco said we can’t control people’s messages, but we can control our own. He encouraged participants to focus on the positive ones and avoid controversy.
“I have learned about things I didn’t even know existed, at all. I am going home and check with my children,” said Jackson St. Therese parishioner Ingrid Piernas.
Piernas pointed out that with today’s technology, everything boils down to the choices we make, like in the case of the Pennsylvania student. “Even though we may not post pictures of ourselves, we have to be cautious because there are other people with cameras around us, so we should be mindful of our conduct,” she said.”
She also indicated that the speaker also made a great point noting sometimes there might be a disconnect between our Catholic faith and how we conduct ourselves on social media. “We say we are Catholic and we try to follow our faith and values but the way we present ourselves or the things we post in social media may not necessarily reflect that Catholic faith.”
For Shae Robinson, principal of Jackson Sister Thea Bowman Elementary School, knowledge about some of the apps available was also very helpful. “I didn’t know they were out there. That information opened my eyes to a lot of new things,” she said. “We need to be aware and monitor what our children are doing at home and at school,” she added.
Robinson agrees with Piernas that people need to be careful what they post on social media and how others may perceive what is posted because it can be viewed negatively and could cause people to lose a job or prevent them from gaining employment.
“To me it was very interesting about the picture of the young university student drinking from a cup. It was our perception of what was in the cup and how she came to lose her teacher’s certificate.”
Roland Powell also left invigorated with new ideas about what is in the internet, Facebook, Twitter and all the other sites available today. He acknowledged he was glad to attend because there was a lot he didn’t know, especially about the impact the internet has in the young generation. “We need to focus on the positive side of all this new technology, in generating new ideas, new approaches that would nurture and improve our kids and adults and move them in the right direction,” he said.
Powell is a board member of Sister Thea Bowman School.