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McGowan connects students, educators and parents in digital age

Nationally recognized speaker Michael McGowan spoke to Ellsworth middle schoolers, faculty and parents about how students, teachers and parents can stay connected without technology in the digital world on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia

Children of the 21st century are growing up in a digital age where they're introduced to new forms of technology on a regular basis. Although these new tools can bring many benefits to the world's youngest generation, they can also alter the way children learn to relate and connect with people, especially when forced to interact with others face-to-face and not through a screen.

The Ellsworth School District approached this growing trend by hosting nationally renowned speaker Michael McGowan who spoke to the district's middle school students, faculty and parents about how technology has shaped the way students handle peer mediation and how adults can stay connected with the kids in their lives without the use of technology.

McGowan has spoken to many groups including college students and professors, the NFL and MLB, and has been asked to come into businesses to train professionals on how to improve their work culture. He has worked as an educator, counselor and consultant. McGowan has spoken on a number of topics varying from drug abuse to how college freshmen can handle living with a new roommate.

"In the last year, 'kindness' has been the buzz word amongst schools," McGowan said of districts he's been asked to speak to. "Without talking to each other, it's amazing how often I go to into schools and they say, 'Our theme this year is kindness,' and I think that's a reaction to the culture in which these kids are growing up that's increasingly sarcastic, negative and distant from one another with an increased use of social media."

Kelly Kyllo, Ellsworth Middle School's counselor, and Principal Timothy Conway brought a small group of Ellsworth eighth graders to a training on peer mediation and leadership presented by McGowan in September and were so impressed by McGowan that they insisted on bringing him to Ellsworth for the whole district to hear from him.

McGowan used storytelling and humor to connect with the Ellsworth middle school students and teach them about the fundamental concepts of how to mediate conflicts among other students. "We thought the presentation was engaging, applicable and important to all students," Kyllo said.

Sixth, seventh and eighth graders all listened to their own presentation on peer mediation, leadership, kindness and respect, all skills and qualities that Kyllo believes middle school students can continue to benefit from and practice.

McGowan pointed out that once kids hide behind the screen of a cell phone or a computer, it's much easier for them to act out and fall short in their human-interaction skills.

"These kids are isolated on Snapchat all the time, and it's not that that's only negative, but for every minute they're [communicating through social media] they're not [communicating face-to-face]," McGowan said. "If you don't dribble the basketball, you probably won't be a proficient dribbler growing up, and so what we're finding is that lack of skills that aren't just social skills but also job employment skills."

After the three student presentations, Mr. McGowan then spoke to middle and high school staff on "teaching to the digital generation." Later that night, the middle school held a parent presentation on "parenting the digital generation" where McGowan explained how parents can prevent cyber bullying and help develop their children's social skills without the use of technology.

"The feedback I have received from students, staff, and parents have all been very positive and well received," Ko said.

"It's not like it's a hard message, because what we're saying is 'How would you like to be treated?'" McGowan said. "Every kid wants to be treated fairly, so it's not like it's a tough sell; I'm not trying to sell them something that makes them uncomfortable, it's what they're looking for."