$300,000 game to teach dangers of Internet predators

gkocher1@herald-leader.comApril 15, 2009 

NICHOLASVILLE — Middle schoolers and high schoolers will learn how to protect themselves from Internet predators when a new interactive computer program starts next fall, paid for with a $300,000 earmark secured by U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler.

The Jessamine County school district will launch the program and administer money that will spread the program to the more than 80 middle schools and high schools in Chandler's 6th congressional district in Central Kentucky. Chandler, D-Versailles, announced the funding Tuesday at East Jessamine Middle School.

Paul Hamann, chief information officer for the Jessamine schools, showed a portion of Missing, a video game developed to teach middle school students about the dangers of chatting online with strangers.

The game includes a character named Zachary Taylor who develops a suspicious online relationship with a stranger known only as "Fantasma." Zach later disappears, and students watching the game must jot down clues in their attempts to locate him.

By looking at Zach's situation, students "see how easily they could get drawn into that," Hamann said.

The program will have an application that parents can download from a school district's Web site onto their home computers, Hamann said.

Jessamine County's student technology program already has classroom components that address cyber predators, and there are sessions for parents on the topic, too, Superintendent Lu Young said. Nicholasville police also present students with information about Internet safety and cyber bullying.

The $300,000 for the program was included in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in March. The measure had an estimated $7.7 billion in earmarks, which critics see as wasteful spending for pet projects. Chandler alluded to the criticism on Tuesday.

"Earmark is a bad word, you know," Chandler said. "But in this particular case, and I think in the way I try to handle it, we get money for very, very good projects. And this is a very, very good project. Any project that is going to protect our young people, in my view, can be easily defined as a good project."

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