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App helps to prevent bullying, suicides in Maury Co. schools

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The application gives students the ability to anonymously submit photographs, video and messages from their smartphones to school counselors.

Educators and students gathered in Maury County Public Schools’ classrooms and gyms recently to recognize Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network’s annual awareness day and suicide prevention group Cowboy Up’s #lightupthenight campaign.

At the same time, the school district’s central office leadership celebrated another victory in the fight against suicide and one of its related issues, bullying, within the district.

When the school year began this August, the Mt. Pleasant Middle School, Santa Fe Middle School and Mt. Pleasant High and Middle Schools implemented the bullying prevention app STOPit. The mobile app has made it easier for students to report incidents of bullying and given them a path to ask for help in the darkest of times, when thinking about harming themselves.

The system gives students the ability to anonymously submit photographs, video and messages from their smartphones to school counselors.

“When it comes in, we can’t track where it came from,” MCPS Supervisor of Counseling and Mental Health Dr. Robb Killen said of the system’s ability to protect the anonymity of those submitting evidence.

Within the first two months of the school year, Killen said, counselors have received word of 40 separate incidents reported though the mobile app.

“Teachers can’t be everywhere in the building, and this empowers eyes and ears everywhere, even on the bus,” Killen said. “It gives them an opportunity, a really easy way to communicate with the adults in the building.”

But just weeks into its implementation, STOPit did more than help identify school bullies.

Through the app, Killen, said he and school counselors were able to help a female student who had thoughts of harming herself.

Using the app, the student was able to anonymously communicate with the counselors until she eventually made the decision to meet with them in person.

“It was fantastic to see the evolution of that as we start off with their native language, so to speak,” Killen said. “With this generation coming up, they are the digital natives. We are the digital migrants, and we can use that for them, to communicate with us. As we dialog through text, they can open up and we can talk about it.”

Killen said the school district also recently enacted a new suicide threat protocol which gives mental health providers in Maury County Public Schools a solid, standardized approach to helping students.

He said the program offers a level of care previously unseen in the school district.

Killen said he and his staff have used this protocol in 10 situations since the start of the school year.

“With technology now, we hear so many negative things about it, but with this, we are turning the tables and making it positive for our side,” Killen said.

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