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App designed to address bullying in schools

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“Anne” is a smart, interesting and brave young woman who embraces being different and loves to be challenged. But growing up, she just wanted to fit in and play with her young classmates.

Beginning Oct. 3, students at some schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge will have access to the anti-bullying app STOPit! The app allows for students and parents to report bullying anonymously.

Early on, though, Anne realized that was not going to happen. First came the words and laughter, all at her expense. That was followed by exclusion from playground activities, where classmates would run away or turn their backs on her.

“At the time, I didn’t think it was that bad. I thought I could handle it, as you would when you’re 10 or 11,” she recalled.

Eventually, she spent recess in the library reading because no one went there. But the bullying continued until eighth grade. At one point, a confrontation with her main taunter landed Anne in trouble.

“I was upset because I finally did something about it but I got in trouble. I told my counselor they’d been tormenting me and she told me I was making myself too much of a target,” said Anne.

On Oct. 3, students attending Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge will have the tool to target bullies and stop their behavior thanks to the app STOPit. The app allows for anonymous reporting of incidences of bullying whether on school grounds or online. It features a tool that can capture a screen of social media and cyber bullying and it documents when problems are reported and addressed.

“It was something we thought was important and you want to use the tools of the time,” said Michael Miller, assistant superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese. “This was a tool that they could utilize and recognize. We literally bought a license for every student from pre-k to 12th grade in the entire diocese. We’re talking about 15,000 students.”

The program is voluntary for each school and not all schools in the diocese have decided whether they will use STOPit. School policy bans cell phones and electronic devices on campus, so students will have to wait until after school to access the app.

“My hope would be that if there is a problem at school, they can tell a teacher,” said Miller. “Bullying is less likely to occur in a classroom in a structured environment than it is during social free time.”

Todd Schobel developed the STOPit app after hearing about Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old Canadian who committed suicide because of bullying. He said it was important to create an “anonymous platform” for reporting because of the fear of retribution.

“The biggest problem you always hear is no one knew,” he said.

“I wanted to solve that and empower (students). The biggest thing is the deterrent effect (because of the app). People are going to think twice before they do stuff.”

Erin Candalora, principal at St. Aloysius School in Baton Rouge, said she thinks any program that “keeps our kids safer is worth implementing.” She knows there will be a lot of reporting in the beginning so there will be efforts to teach kids the difference between a mean comment and “someone who is seeking out, every day, a certain child to be mean.”

“We know some kids are not as comfortable talking with someone about what is going on so this will give them a way to report it anonymously,” she said.

St. Theresa School in Gonzales principal Chris Musso said the anonymous aspect of the app is helpful.

“You can respond anonymously to get more details such as last names, grades, time of day, then you can move forward to respond,” she said. “Some students won’t tell a teacher for fear of being overheard.”

Miller said the reason the schools office began looking into the program is because part of the mission of Catholic schools is “evangelizing hearts, along with rigor, relevance and relationship.”

“We thought this would be a great tool to help create those healthy relationships,” he said. “The one thing that I can’t emphasize enough is we didn’t do this because we are reacting to a problem. We wanted to be out front with something and say, ‘You know what, we have something in place.’”

Based on her own experience in middle school, Anne said this app would be a big help in combating bullies and those who help perpetuate the problem.

“Any tool you can give a child is 100 percent necessary. Some teachers just don’t know,” Anne said. “Sometimes things that don’t seem big can be really big because the roots run deep. You don’t see how far down it goes. Mine went on for six years and it took me six or seven years to get over it.”

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