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Portsmouth schools use technology to catch worrisome online searches from students – newportri.com

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Portsmouth schools use technology to catch worrisome online searches from students - newportri.com

PORTSMOUTH — Whether distance learning or having students in classrooms, computers have been embedded in educational structures for years.

All students within the Portsmouth School Department currently use school-issued Chromebooks. The district had been rolling out a 1-to-1 program by grade before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Then plans changed. 

“We were about 75% there,” Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy said in an email, but the pandemic “accelerated our plans, as it did for all districts.”

More: A year of living online has caused a youth mental health crisis. Can tech help us solve it?

With the power of the internet at youths’ fingertips, the possibility for worrisome searches is heightened. And youth mental health is already volatile.

Teen suicide, most often associated with depression, was the second leading cause of death for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years, according to the CDC, pulling from data spanning the years 1999 to 2019.

But the Portsmouth School Department has a tech solution in place so appropriate staff and resources can intervene if a potential issue or crisis is detected on a student’s computer.   

More: Text message system offers a lifeline to youth facing mental health crisis

The district uses a program called “Securly,” managed through its technology department, to flag worrisome searches made by students. Every morning, building administrators receive reports on the previous day. Monday reports include weekend searches.

The School Department began a phase-in of the program about three years ago, but with the move “to full 1-to-1 technologies necessitated by COVID, it is now on all district-issued devices,” Kenworthy said.

More: PEACE OF MIND: Youth program targets young adults with mental illness to avoid lifelong disability

“It flags words or phrases that may indicate a threat or social/emotional concern,” Kenworthy explained. “Administrators review the reports and determine which need to be followed up on. Sometimes a (particular) project or assignment will trigger warnings so they can factor out things like that (which) they are aware of.”

From there, the “building administrator makes the determination of who needs to be contacted for next steps if warranted.”

Kenworthy noted he wasn’t “aware of any spikes” in mental health-related searches by students that coincided with the pandemic.

Officials with other Newport County school districts within The Daily News coverage area either didn’t respond to emails or said they didn’t have information on such student laptop technology.

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