September 18, 2015

    How One School Fights Bullies With a Mobile App

    A New Jersey school implements the STOPit app, which lets students anonymously report bullying they see on social media.

    Besides patrolling the hallways for bullies, teachers and administrators now have another bully terrain to worry about: the Internet. Many students encounter harassment, intimidation and bullying on the web today, particularly on social media.

    David Brearley Middle School and David Brearly High School, which teaches students in Grades 7-12 in Kenilworth, N.J., implemented an app called “STOPit” to help with cyber bullying.

    Through the smartphone app, students can anonymously report bullying they see on the Internet and send a notification to the principal of the school, Brian Luciani.

    For example, if a student makes a nasty comment on Facebook about another student, any student at the school with the app can take a screen shot of the post on her smartphone and report is via the STOPit app anonymously. Luciani then receives a notification and can login to STOPit to see the reported incident. He does not know which student sent it in. It only takes about 15 seconds for a student to report bullying through the app, Luciani says.

    Having the app gives Luciani and other administrators a better view of bulling that may be behind-the-scenes or easy to miss at school. It also lets administrators try and solve the problem before it escalates. For example, previously a fight might break out in the cafeteria and Luciani would talk to the students involved and learn that the argument had been going on for weeks.

    “Now with the app we are more on top of things,” Luciani says. “We are a lot more proactive. We can alleviate stresses and conflicts in better ways before kids make poor choices.”

    Cyber bullying often occurs either via group text or on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Luciani says he often observes one person post something mean, such as “Did you see how ugly John looked today?” or “Jane is easy,” and then other students make comments on the post. Even if the bullied student isn’t tagged in the post, other students who see the post can report it in STOPit. This way, students keep each other accountable and bullies may think twice since they know this program is in place, Luciani says.

    Luciani heard about the app a year and a half ago and quickly brought it to the attention of the superintendent of Kenilworth Public Schools, who also liked it. The board of education approved the funds for STOPit a week later. The iOS and Android app is free for the students to download. The cost for the school, Luciani, says, was nominal, and was only a few dollars per student.

    The school, which implemented the app in April of 2013 , doesn’t require students to download the app, but the staff highly encourages it, Luciani says. The school also sent a letter home to all parents letting them know about the app. The app assigns each school a code tied to each specific school’s administrator. More than half of the students at David Brearley have the app, he says.

    About 100 students at Luciani’s school were reported via the STOPit app in the first half of the school year it was in place. Luciani says the number of reports dropped by 80% over the past year. He also notes that even if a report is made, that doesn’t mean those students are necessarily found guilty of bullying. Also, sometimes the same students are repeatedly reported.

    Since the reports come in anonymously, Luciani says the bullied students or the people who report it don’t receive any backlash for turning them in. Since most students are on their phones and on social media, it could have been anyone reporting the incident, he says.

    As students can send in the report at any time, Luciani will get alerts at night and over the weekend. He then then can go into the school day Monday morning knowing who he needs to talk to right away, he says.

    “Schools are responsible for students basically seven days a week,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it happens on Saturday, we have to deal with it if it affects a child in school and make sure that child feels safe and secure.”

    When talking to the bullies, Luciani likes to emphasize that what they say on social media is on the record forever and they are responsible for what they say and do on the Internet

    The app also has a crisis button, which connects students to a 24-hour hotline. The button is a resource for students and the school is not notified if the button is pressed.

    The STOPit app is currently used by more than 100 schools in the U.S. and recently expanded into Canada, Ireland, Italy and South Africa.

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