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Can Anonymous Reporting App Reduce Bullying for Wilson County Students?

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Mt. Juliet High School Principal Mel Brown knows what he wants from a new app that allows students to anonymously report concerns.

“Here’s how I presented it; I want to know if something isn’t right at Mt. Juliet High School,” Brown said.

STOPit is the app that was made available to students at Wilson County’s traditional high schools during the fall semester, first at Lebanon High and followed by Mt. Juliet, Wilson Central and Watertown.

“Comforting to students,” Lebanon High junior Alaina Walsh said about STOPit’s early returns at Lebanon High School.

But the anonymity that gives students a safe outlet to help school administrators and school resource officers resolve problems can also be a vehicle for disparaging statements with no validity or just random silliness such as posting song lyrics, students say.

“If used correctly it can be helpful,” or “a real time-killer,” when the app is misused, Brown said.

The need

Bullying and cyberbullying can go beyond school walls and hours, Mt. Juliet seniors Georgia Latta and Ryah Al-Amin say.

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright supported the introduction of STOPit in the district high schools at its four traditional high schools to help educators "get their arms around some of the pitfalls," associated with technology while providing a less intimidating way for students to communicate problems.

“I think it’s going to be very beneficial down the road and now,” Ryah said. “Our job as their friends is to take care of them and help… That can be anyone.”

STOPit reports generally go to designated individuals that may include an administrator and SRO who respond to the student similarly to an online chat. Reports and conversations can be stored allowing schools to keep records. Screen shots, video and pictures can also be included in a report. The app is funded through Wilson County Schools' insurance provider, district spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said.

“The anonymous part is really important,” Alaina said. “It’s easier for teenagers because we’re always on our phones.”

“This is a really good way for people who are bystanders to bullying or who are being bullied themselves to have a place to report and say what is going on,” Georgia said.

Guarding against misuse

STOPit Solutions provides training and technical features to reinforce the app is to address serious concerns. And there is a deactivate feature that can prohibit a user abusing the app from sending reports, STOPit Solutions Chief Revenue Officer Neil Hooper said.

Dr. Robb Killen, supervisor of counseling and mental health for Maury County Public Schools, estimated about five student accounts had to be deactivated last school year when the district implemented STOPit last school year.

Most of the phony or illicit reports that Maury County Schools has dealt with have come when the app was first rolled out or after breaks, Killen said. Brown has noticed a similar pattern at Mt. Juliet.

“We respond that it’s used for reporting and usually that takes care of it,” Killen said.

The initial STOPit rollout in Wilson County has “had more positive feedback than negative,” from school resource officers according to Wilson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Scott Moore and Lebanon High the app playing a role in helping a handful of issues.

Lebanon High Assistant Principal Candis Angle doesn’t want to dismiss any reports.

“They’ve opened a line of communication with me and I don’t want to shut that down,” said Angle, who is the initial contact of a STOPit report at Lebanon. “They might want to give more information another time and I always want them to know I’m listening.”

STOPit growing in Tennessee

About 80 schools in Tennessee are using the STOPit app, according to Hooper.

Maury County offered STOPit at five schools and this school year has it available for its four middle schools for grades 5-8, three high schools for grades 9-12 and at its three K-12 unit schools for those students in grades 5-12.

The app has helped Maury County administrators address bullying, hazardous activity on buses and threats of self-inflicted harm, Killen said.

Franklin County’s North Middle School has utilized STOPit since last school year and has defused multiple incidents, including a potential cyberbullying case, Principal Leah Harrell said.

“What we’ve found is that it’s a foot in the door whereas otherwise students might not say anything,” Killen said.

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