By Anna Guido
MILFORD - In May 2002, Christina Long made a friend on the Internet and met him at a mall near her hometown of Danbury, Conn.
The 13-year-old, straight-A student, altar girl and cheerleading co-captain was sexually abused and strangled by her new friend - a 24-year-old married man.
Christina's tragic mistake is one that the U.S. government fears other young people will continue to make unless they are educated about Internet safety.
"This is a call to action and not just an issue for schools to address - it's a community issue," said Lynn Ochs, director of the Technology for Learning Center at the Hamilton County Educational Service Center.
Ochs and other community leaders met Friday morning at Milford High School to learn more about how they can spread the message of Internet safety. In 1998 Congress authorized funding for i-SAFE America Inc.
Devra Brukman, a consultant with the Carlsbad, Calif.-based non-profit Internet safety education foundation, led the meeting.
Milford was chosen as the Cincinnati area's launch site for i-SAFE education because of the high school administration's inquiry into the program, Brukman said.
i-SAFE, which received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, aims to provide students with critical-thinking and decision-making skills to recognize and avoid dangerous, destructive, or unlawful online behavior and to respond appropriately.
In 2002, i-SAFE's "Safe School Education Initiative and Outreach Campaign" was launched in 24 states, including Ohio, with a $3.5 million federal grant.
Last year, Congress increased i-SAFE's support with another $5 million to expand the effort into all 50 states this school year.
Also Friday, Milford High's programming class (16 junior and senior boys) was brought in for training by Brukman.
Applied technology teacher Roxann Schneder plans to have her programming students train younger students on Internet safety.
Senior Mark Scovanner, 18, of Loveland, advises: "Don't even go into chat rooms, don't talk to people you don't know, don't open e-mail whose address you don't recognize."
All i-SAFE curriculum materials and instructor training are provided free to schools and law enforcement agencies. For information, call (760) 603-7911, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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