Teenangels in Plymouth, England - local newspaper report
STUART ABEL AND DAVID MACAULAY
12:00 - 15 October 2004
Plymouth pupils are to be recruited to teach children about the dangers of the internet in a pioneering scheme. The Teenangels will be specially trained to help protect fellow pupils from the dangers of cyber bullying, grooming and cyber stalking.
The scheme, which is widely used in America, will put the city at the vanguard of a scheme so far pioneered in only one other British city, Bradford.
Plymouth Sutton MP Linda Gilroy was joined by a 20-year-old American director of Teenangels at a launch in Westminster yesterday.
Teams of young people aged between 13 and 18 will be recruited at Lipson Community College and Stoke Damerel Community College to teach fellow pupils how to use the internet safely.
The idea is that they will be able to spread the word about the dangers of the internet to children of their own age, and younger pupils, better than teachers or parents.
Mrs Gilroy hopes the scheme will take off and be extended to more city schools.
The scheme has already been welcomed by Tony Blair, speaking at Prime Minister's Question Time.
He said: "The internet obviously bestows enormous opportunities and benefits, but it also creates the dangers to which she [Mrs Gilroy] draws attention, so it is important that we make sure that we do everything possible to protect our children, who may been gaining access to unsuitable material."
Teenangels, set up by the Wired Safety company in America, have been working in a schools for some time in the US. They are trained in safe use of the internet and arrange sessions with experts and law enforcement officers.
Mrs Gilroy told the launch in Westminster's Portcullis House: "Plymouth is a really good place for this to work. We have strong global links particularly with the US to where the Pilgrim Fathers and indeed the Pilgrim Mothers set sail. Schools are facing an increasing challenge trying to ensure that they protect their computer facilities from this kind of thing."
Brittany Bacon, 20, from New Jersey is the director of Teenangels. She is currently working as Mrs Gilroy's intern. She warned of the insidious dangers of cyber bullying. "It has caused suicides. It can be things such as polls on who is the ugliest girl in the school."
The Teenangels will be given six week intensive courses before embarking on training sessions in the Plymouth schools. The scheme could start running some time next month.
Lipson Community College principal Steve Baker said: "It seems really good. We have a group of youngsters who are really interested in the idea. The Teenangels have worked with agencies such as the FBI in the United States. The internet is something that has changed the world we live in and we must aim to educate young people accordingly."