2022-11-18 19:43:37.26733 +0000 UTC

Student Aware Case Study: Empowering Student Safety With Horizon Public Schools

How do you empower students to benefit from amazing online services and knowledge without putting them at significant risk of accessing dangerous content? Horizon School Division seems to have the answer. Research conducted by Imagine Everything revealed that Horizon had the highest overall student technology utilization among participating school boards while still achieving the lowest amount of flagged, high-risk content.

Out of 15 Alberta school boards, Horizon scored 97.4 for student technology utilization, a scoring system which measures the average student engagement level through online activities. The average among the test group was 57.6. Their total percentage of high-risk content was 0.09% whereas the group average was 0.22%. Over the course of the month-long study, Horizon generated 1,055,415 web requests for analysis and just 982 were flagged for risky activity.

"We’re a fairly conservative community, but we like our gadgets, and we love our kids," said Amber Darroch, Associate Superintendent for Horizon School Division. “We want all our parents to know that we’re working hard to create safe spaces for kids to learn online. Our early participation in the Student Audit project came from our desire to provide the best possible protection for all our students."

Innovator, and early adopter.

Horizon School Division was the fourth Alberta division to provide financial backing for the Student Audit project, a technology which analyses online student behaviour and identifies vulnerable students and high-risk online activity. The system can detect signs of suicide, abuse, exploitation, pornography access, adult network engagement, and school violence. It also acts to protect student information by scanning for private data leaks through malware relays.

Unlike content filtering services, Student Audit focuses on evaluating student behaviour in a personalized way by providing a risk assessment for each student. At-risk students are easy to spot through a built-in investigative tool which consolidates evidence and provides context and online web history.

“When we saw the first version of Student Audit we felt compelled to be involved. The potential to protect students was significant and the founders of the company have a history of being incredibly responsive to school board needs.”

Amber Darroch, Horizon

The journey to 99.91% of great content.

When Horizon first launched Student Audit there were a number of concerns in multiple high-risk topics. However, by taking a very intentional, hands-on approach with each student, Horizon was able to move from an initial three-week average of 0.39% for flagged content down to a three-week average of just 0.09%.

In fact, their risk levels are so consistently low that a single student generating a reasonable number of flagged requests shows up in their weekly averages -- as indicated in the graph below on January 28.

You have to know the kids.

"In one case we had self-harm alerts pop up for a student with known complex needs which triggered a very fast, and decisive intervention process," said Amber. As an Associate Superintendent, Amber oversees all Learner Services including curriculum, inclusive education, counselling, and technology, placing her in a unique position for managing student safety in a very digital world.

"The notification and investigation systems in Student Audit are heavily used by our team. I’d like to believe that no matter how big a school board is, as long as the right people are notified, they should be able to move swiftly to help a child in need," Amber added.

Horizon streams alerts to either school principals or counsellors, depending on the nature of the concern. From there, the team may involve teachers, parents, or both depending on the nature of the intervention.

Their incredible success balancing online learning while mitigating risk seems to be the very hands-on, intentional, and thorough approach they take with each case presented by Student Audit.

At Horizon, we decided to have our administrative team take the lead on this project because they often know the kids on a personal level.

Amber Darroch, Horizon

Safe schools, safe community.

The head office for Horizon School Division is located in Taber, Alberta, a small town community with a big heart that over 8,400 people call home. The school board maintains a strong working relationship with organizations such as the Taber Community Action & Prevention Society as well as the Family & Community Support Services to ensure community safety is as collaborative and coordinated as possible.

Amber noted, "Everyone works together to keep the community safe: Horizon has a role to play, parents, police, community services. As a school board, we decided it’s essential to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to keeping kids safe and healthy."

This is our home: we work here, we play here, and we want to make sure it’s a great place to live.

Amber Darroch, Horizon