Program Offers Kids Secure Web Hangout

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007

After a 25-year career with the Office of Naval Intelligence, Kathy Godfrey has become the technology coordinator at St. Peter's Catholic School in Waldorf.

The woman who helped identify security threats and weathered the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has a new set of challenges: third-graders who claim to have MySpace pages, middle-schoolers who want to watch YouTube and parents who don't realize the dangers of letting their kids run wild on the Internet.

"These children are so savvy," Godfrey said. "They're not afraid of the computer. . . . They're not intimidated by what people say to them in chat rooms."

But Godfrey said she has a possible solution: a Maryland-based company that wants schools to test its Safe Card technology and a kid-friendly Web site with monitored chat rooms.

The software program, which would be free to the school at first, comes with a fingerprint-activated plastic card for each student. To go online, students would insert the card into a reader connected to the computer.

Students would be directed to the "America's Safe Kids Site," where they could talk with friends in monitored chat rooms or venture to Web sites that are screened for violence, nudity, profanity and solicitation dangers, said Brian A. Colella, president of SOSBp, the company that has developed the program.

The site is geared toward children younger than 17, with chat rooms for three age-specific groups.

If a student makes an inappropriate comment, types a bad word or bullies someone, a monitor is notified immediately, Colella said. The child would have 30 seconds to take back the comment. If the comment is not corrected after another warning and another 30 seconds, the child would be kicked off the system for 24 hours and an e-mail sent to the school and the child's parents.

"This prevents the bullying, the MySpace problems that have come about," he said.

During a visit to St. Peter's Catholic School just before Christmas, Colella took photos of the 350 students in grades 3 through 8 and about 40 faculty members; they will be receiving the cards in January. He also demonstrated the system on the school's computers.

The cards can be used at home, on non-school computers and with Web-ready cellphones using a smaller reader. The cards are the child's "most secure IDs in the world," Colella said, and they can be used for attendance, building access, cafeteria purchases, library checkout and medical information.

Colella said his company also sells adult versions of the cards and Web-securing programs, which are being used in applications across the nation.

Colella, who in 1995 opened the Online Cafe in Rockville, which has since closed, says he has been working on this product since the mid-'90s. He said his goal is to have the cards and devices "in almost every child's hand." The project at St. Peter's is a pilot program that Colella has offered to a number of schools and districts. He said that he is determined to see Safe Card in general use and that the safety of children is at stake.

"We're going to do what it takes to protect them," Colella said.

He acknowledges that the effort is also part of his business and that he hopes to eventually make a profit. He said schools with tight budgets might be able to get funding help from private businesses or grants to implement the program.

The next partnership Colella forges might take the product international. He is in negotiations with officials at the Academy for Educational Development to implement the system at its programs. The nonprofit AED has more than 250 human and social development programs in all 50 states and more than 150 countries.

"This is big," he said.

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