Oak Park and River Forest High School wins education grant

Award teaches Internet safety to special education students

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By Community Editor

Internet skills have become essential to participating in an increasingly digital world. But special education teachers at Oak Park and River Forest High School saw a growing digital divide between students with and without disabilities and decided to do something about it. They applied for, and won, a grant to help close the growing digital learning gap between their special education students and peers without disabilities.
Following a highly competitive and rigorous application process, OPRF High School was among eight schools from across Illinois that were selected to receive the Safe and Productive Internet Life & Literacy Skills, or SPILLS Grant. Valued at $2500.00, the SPILLS Grant meets special education teachers' demands for a tool that would help them teach their students how to use the Internet safely and productively.
The grant was offered through a partnership between UCP-Infinitec and JJ's List, an Evanston-based not-for-profit 501(c)(3) that works at the grassroots level to help people with disabilities integrate into the community using Internet and technology tools.
JJ's List created the comprehensive Safe and Productive Internet Life & Literacy Skills Curriculum (SPILLS) - the first of its kind in the nation - to address the growing digital divide between those with and without disabilities "Schools are providing more education about Internet use to general education students, but students with developmental and learning disabilities are being left behind and are not being taught the very skills they need for productive futures," said JJ Hanley, executive director of JJ's List and author of the curriculum.  "Many teachers we surveyed were either afraid to work with their special-ed students on the Internet or felt that students with disabilities shouldn't be using the Internet at all. SPILLS directly addresses this problem." 
JJ's List designed SPILLS, which is now in distribution in Illinois and four other states, to address the unique learning needs of students with developmental and learning disabilities, while instructing them on how to use the Internet safely and productively for learning, employment, socialization and other life skills they will need as adults. 
Last semester, OPRFHS teachers conducted lessons from SPILLS, which follows Illinois Learning Standards and National Educational Technology Standards.  Teachers covered areas of personal responsibility, safety and life skills, including lesson on safe use of social networking sites such as Facebook and trip planning using online trip planners.  "Never more than now, have we realized how desperately we need this type of structured, thorough and explicit curriculum," said OPRFHS teacher Lisa Vincent.  "People without disabilities use the Internet for everything. We want our students to have that same opportunity."
Students in the program have responded positively. "The SPILLS curriculum is a very intelligently designed program to help young adults achieve an awareness about their surroundings, the Internet and social life on-line and on-land," said Chris, a transition program student.
"We've learned what to do and what not to do. Like what to do if you see someone sending you a nasty message on Facebook," said Marquita, another transition student.

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