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LUHS bullying app helps students find help

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Students at Lakeland Union High School have been given a new resource to help combat bullying and clean up their school this year: the STOPit bully reporting app.

The smartphone application, which allows students to report bullying activity to the administration in real-time, was purchased by the high school this summer and first became available to students this past fall semester.

While LUHS hasn't had an outstanding bullying problem in recent years, school officials felt it necessary to take a proactive stance on bullying in the current educational climate.

"If we can do anything to prevent bullying from taking place, then we're going to take more of a proactive stance," said principal-administrator Jim Bouché.

LUHS is the first school in the state to make this app available to its students. Dean of students Chad Gauerke began researching student reporting apps last spring after an Edgar student committed suicide as a result of being bullied.

"What that community went through - I don't think any community should have to go through that," Gauerke said. "For me, that was my own personal reason. I don't ever want our school to go through that."

After researching apps for some time, Gauerke recommended the STOPit app to the administration.

The STOPit app allows students to message the administration about bullying anytime they see it taking place. The message is sent directly to Gauerke's phone. After receiving a message, Gauerke follows up like he would with any other student report.

In addition to text, the app allows students to send photos or video. It also, somewhat controversially, allows students to report anonymously.

"For the anonymous part we take everything with a grain of salt right away - you can't just take everyone's word on everything, so that's a little more work on our end but so far it's been doing well," Gauerke said.

While Bouché was initially concerned about the possibility that kids could use the app anonymously to actually bully other students, Gauerke was able to dispel that suspicion and win Bouché over with the benefits of the anonymous reporting.

"Now if a kid wants to message me instead of walking down to the office and being seen as, you know, some kids call them 'snitches,' in elementary school its 'tattle-tales" - now they can message me," Gauerke said. "It goes to myself and a few other administrators. They can message me anonymously or they can do it with their name on it. We prefer the names obviously so we can talk with the kids and follow up. I take everything seriously but also with a grain of salt until we know the facts."

What really sold Gauerke on the app though, was the 24-hour crisis hotline service that is now available to all LUHS students.

The service puts students in direct contact with a crisis professional either over the phone or through direct messaging.

"If a kid is not in school and they don't know where to turn, they can just take that number and just message or call somebody," Gauerke said.

What's more, students who use the crisis line are entirely anonymous.

"That doesn't go through us, that's a national prevention line," Gauerke said. "We'll never know how many kids use that crisis center service, that's information we'll never get."

After researching the benefits of STOPit, the administration decided to invest in the app and make the service available to LUHS students. The school pays less than $2 per student annually for the app.

At the beginning of the semester, the administration presented an introduction to the app with every class, giving students information on the app's functions and where they can download it for their smartphone. Gauerke estimates that one-fifth of the student population has downloaded the app.

After one semester, the administration views the app as a success, but one in which progress can be built upon. In the coming months, the administration will continue to push students download the app and take an active role in improving their school

"We have 710 kids, and for us to be in all places at all times isn't possible," Gauerke said. "We're trying to put a responsibility on the students and empower them to be proactive and make their building what they want it to be."

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