Designed by Youth teaches web-savvy skills to middle school students 

The next social-media campaign you interact with just might be the work of real children.

At Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School in Daly City, the nonprofit Designed By Youth is teaching middle school students how to do the work of Web designers and social-media consultants, turning the children from passive Web consumers into active users who ran an advocacy campaign for a City Council member.

Jason Dare, who owns a for-profit education company, created the program at Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School because the school serves many disadvantaged students, some of whom struggled with low test scores.

A year ago, when Dare started the program, he began by sending the students on an online scavenger hunt. He was surprised to see the kids typing the scavenger hunt's written instructions, verbatim, into the Google search field.

Upon further investigation, Dare found that the students didn't know what a sponsored search result was. He said that none of them had blogs or used Twitter, but most of them did watch videos on YouTube. In other words, he said, the kids had been relating to the Internet as a source of entertainment that they passively consumed.

As part of the first year's education, the students created and ran a social-media campaign to publicize Daly City Councilman Mike Guingona's Bike With Mike project. They had to design a website and use Twitter and Facebook in a campaign that enables people to track the councilman's progress as he pursues his goal of riding his bike on every mile of Daly City's public roads.

This year, , the students plan to roll out a smartphone app they've been working on called School Connect. It is designed to keep parents up to date, and could render obsolete the practice of sending notes home with students. Principal Brent Marquez-Valenti described the app as a central communications hub that will allow information to flow back and forth between parents, teachers and students.

When asked how Designed By Youth has affected student outcomes, Marquez-Valenti said it was too early for hard data to be available. However, he said he expects the School Connect app to be unveiled within weeks of the school year's start, and he regards that as an impressive, tangible result.

Dare said some of last year's students now maintain their own blogs, and some have promised to help him teach digital literacy to this year's students. He said that when the scavenger hunt test was repeated at the end of the year, the improvement was obvious.

"They'd learned better problem-solving skills," Dare said. "They'd learned how to better understand the language of computers."

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