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HMS encouraging students to serve as ‘upstanders’ with implementation of STOPit app

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Haddonfield Middle School Principal Tracy Matozzo said middle school is typically when students are on the precipice of getting a cell phone, and her goal is to see her students become responsible digital citizens. For that reason, the middle school is in the process of rolling out the STOPit app within the next month.

“The app, which lets school personnel and local authorities know when an act of harassment, intimidation and bullying is occurring, is meant to help students serve as upstanders and to ensure timely reporting anonymously,” Matozzo said.

The STOPit app will have certain phone numbers, such as Matozzo’s, the assistant principal and the HIB coordinator, plugged in confidentially, so if a student is being harassed or followed home by another student, for example, they can report the harassment immediately. Using filters on the app, the student can categorize the tip and report their level of concern. The app will also feature an icon that connects the user to local emergency services immediately.

Matozzo said the goal is to have students understand who their community resources are and know they can reach out to them.

The app was first implemented around five years ago at Haddonfield Memorial High School. HMHS Principal Chuck Klaus said at the time they were looking into school security hotlines, and the district’s insurance company encouraged them to check out the STOPit app.

Klaus said at the high school level, they saw the app not so much as a tipline for reporting bullying but more as a resource for students who wanted to reach when they were concerned about a friend committing an act of self-harm. He said students would come in on Monday and say a friend was drinking too much, and they wanted to give them the tools to reach out for help.

When the app was first rolled out at HMHS, it was somewhat busy, Klaus said. He said during that time, they found that not a single malicious or false report came through, but as the school year went on, student use of the app died off.

What we found was that students would much prefer to see us in person,” Klaus said.

HMHS’ Class of 2017 marked the last class to utilize the app. Klaus said in his eyes, the app is better suited for middle schoolers who may not yet have the skills or wherewithal to report their concerns.

Because phones are not permitted to be used during the school day, HMS will not have an assembly roll out for this program. Matozzo said HMS will provide information about the app to parents, staff and students through e-blasts, so they know the app is a tool available to them should they choose to use it.

“In middle school, as students start to gain a different sense of self and work to establish relationships with new people, with adults, with parents and members of their families, this application can offer a way to generate conversations at home about acts of bullying and how to stand up for others,” Matozzo said.

The challenge of bringing the app in at the middle school level is most sixth graders don’t have cell phones, some seventh graders do and the majority of eighth grade have a phone, Matozzo said. For that reason, Matozzo said the school’s goal is to give families the information and let them make a decision as to whether they want their student to use the app.

For Matozzo, the most important component of the app is the anonymity. She said oftentimes students—and even parents—are afraid to report bullying for fear of retribution, but the app provides a “protective shield against retribution.”

Ultimately, Matozzo said she doesn’t think the app is a standalone tool against bullying, but she sees it as one more way to help students connect with community resources who can respond to their concerns.

“This is one of those things that can be successful when there’s buy in to it,” Matozzo said.

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