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Clearwater nonprofit brings cyber safety to Tampa-St. Pete schoolchildren

Margie Manning

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Cyber Safety Day New Orleans, October 2018

Pat Craven, director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, was surprised when he learned what some elementary schoolchildren were doing online.

A nationwide study commissioned by the Clearwater nonprofit found that 40 percent of children in the fourth through eighth grades have connected or chatted online with a stranger.

The average age for getting a first phone is 10.3 years old, according to 2016 research.

Pat Craven, director, Center for Cyber Safety and Education

That’s why the organization has launched an initiative to teach young children how to be safe on the internet. The program features the cartoon character Garfield and includes comic books, stickers, posters, trading cards and other materials packed into an educators’ kit, a “lesson in a box” with enough material for a teacher and 30 students.

“I reached out to Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, and pitched him the idea. He jumped in with both feet and said this is awesome, let’s do this,” Craven said. “We partnered with Davis and his team and created Garfield Cyber Safety Adventures. We have three adventures done so far — lessons is what we call them — one on privacy, one on safe posting and the other is on cyberbullying.”

Garfield is a popular cartoon character, but the fat cat is best known for eating and sleeping, not for his cybersecurity expertise. So Davis created two new characters just for the Garfield Cyber Safety Adventures program — Dr. Cybrina, a Siamese cat who is certified information security systems professional, as well as B.I.S.B., a basic internet safety bot and Cybrina’s sidekick.

Garfield and friends

The program has gone global, with Garfield kits shipped to more than 20 countries. It is less well-known locally, even though the Center for Cyber Safety and Education is the charitable foundation for (ISC)², a cybersecurity and IT security professional organization headquartered in Clearwater.

Now, the Garfield program is about to get a higher profile in the Tampa-St. Pete area. The center is making plans for Cyber Safety Tampa Bay, a community initiative to implement Garfield Cyber Safety Adventures on a larger scale. It’s scheduled for Jan. 28, which is Data Privacy Day.

“We piloted this basic concept in last October in New Orleans. We were there for a cybersecurity conference and thought it was a fun way to give back to the community,” Craven said. “We began reaching out to local businesses, the chamber of commerce, the visitors’ center, the mayor, school districts and we got local financial support to put on the program in New Orleans. We did a little over 2,300 kids in 17 elementary schools in one day.”

The center is planning a Cyber Safety day in Orlando on Oct. 30, as well as in Columbus, Ohio; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Toronto on dates yet to be determined.

The organization wants to get corporate involvement and funding to recoup its costs. In Toronto, volunteers are organizing a golf tournament to raise funding to bring the program to 30,000 third-graders. In Orlando, the goal is to reach 10,000 third-graders and the group is nearly halfway there with Amazon Web Services providing funding for 4,000 children to take part.

Locally, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is the first funder, writing a check for $1,440, which will cover costs for 250 children. But there are 30,000 third-graders in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties, and to reach all of them, the center has to raise another $75,000.

While still planning details for the 2020 Cyber Safety Tampa Bay, Craven also has his sights set on a larger event.

“We would love to see it become a community wide event. What else could we be doing that day? What could businesses do with their employees? We have programs for parents, for senior citizens that we could be putting on that day,” he said. “We could make it into a massive community wide awareness campaign. It doesn’t have to be one day, it could be one week that all these events are going on. That would be the perfect scenario.”

Craven also hopes to expand the lessons in the Garfield program.

“Our ultimate goal is to have 15 different adventure or lessons on a variety of topics and that’s what we hope to do if we can find corporate funding to underwrite production and creation,” he said.

He said it’s similar to seat belt campaigns that raised awareness of auto safety for an earlier generation. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to teach basic stuff to these children, that will be their seatbelt. They won’t have to think twice if someone asks for their personal information … and the child knows to react and to say something to somebody.”

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