After every presentation on cyberbullying, there are always students with comments or questions, most of them routine. But not all of them. One comment recently offered to Sgt. Tom Rich of the Summit (N.J.) Police Department by an eighth-grade girl certainly didn’t qualify as routine: “I’m glad I go to a school that offers an app that helps students in trouble. If the school where I went to sixth grade had had it, I might not have tried to kill myself.”
Understandably, that student stands out for Rich, who has been making presentations on cyberbullying in various schools, including David Brearley Middle-High School in Kenilworth, N.J, for a number of years. In February 2014, Brearley participated in a pilot program to test a new smartphone/tablet application program that has proved a powerful tool to help students help themselves and their fellow students.
“Social media like Instagram, SnapChat, that’s where students are at now. They want to take instant pictures and videos and send them, and this new app lets them do that,” Rich says. With this mobile reporting tool, students can send screen shots to trusted adults or report anonymously, and it also offers 24/7 access to counseling services. Schools receive reports in real time and can immediately take steps to remediate situations, and all reports are time and date stamped and stored in the Cloud, allowing law enforcement to collect them as court-admissible evidence.
“Students can use it to make reports to help themselves, their friends and even other students they may not know well,” Rich says. “One of the best success stories we’ve heard was about a 14-year-old boy with Asperger’s who was being bullied. An anonymous report via this app brought the issue to the attention of school officials, and they put an end to the situation.”
Brian Luciani, principal of David Brearley, says after his school participated in the pilot program using this online reporting tool, the school decided it worked so well that the tool has replaced paper forms from which administrators had to try to piece together investigations from scant, anonymous information.
“It’s really a powerful tool that enables kids to take care of things themselves,” Luciani says. “We’re very very pleased with what it provides to students, parents, local law enforcement and the school.”
The school has made the app available to its 660 students, and having it available has made those students generally more aware that they are responsible for what they see and say online: “There are still kids that do things that make you shake your head, but now you see other students photographing and filming all the time. In fact, the number of reports we receive has steadily dropped, because as students become more aware that other students are watching, they’re monitoring their own behavior.”
And because those reports include photos, videos and other details not possible with paper reports, Luciani and his staff have been able to take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to incidents. For example, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which is a scheduled half-day, is usually a low-key day given over to activities rather than classes. In 2014, reports via the app brought a planned fight to Luciani’s attention, and school administrators stopped trouble before it began.
“This tool has provided a great opportunity for our kids to understand that they’re responsible and that you don’t have to be the target to make a report. Sometimes a bystander is the most powerful person at an incident, and can have a positive impact on what’s going on,” he says.