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School system uses special app to take on bullying

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Bullying has been a much talked about subject on campuses in recent years, and the Franklin County School System is taking a high-tech approach toward combating it.

The school system signed up with STOPit, the leading anti-bullying social media platform for schools that deters and controls harmful or inappropriate conduct, including harassment and cyberbullying.

The STOPit app can turn each student into an anonymous reporting agent with the ability to stop bullies, while protecting themselves and their friends, according to the company’s website.

With Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, and other social media platforms putting children at risk, the school district has chosen to use STOPit to encourage good digital citizenship, and to empower students to take the right steps so issues can be controlled from the outset.

The company’s website says the STOPit mobile app is a simple and fast tool that enables individuals to protect themselves and stand up for others online, on social media, or in the classroom.

Through the app, students can send photos, videos, and screen-shot evidence anonymously to report behavior to school leaders. The platform also includes two-way anonymous messaging for direct communication with administration and round-the-clock access to a talk-or-text crisis center.

Equipped with this information, the school community will have the power to address problems in the most efficient way possible.

The Franklin County School System is also using the STOPit back-end reporting tool called DOCUMENTit — an incident management system that allows administrators to receive proactive alerts of student reports and effectively conduct investigations.

All STOPit features are designed to help the staff get in front of issues to mitigate risk, going beyond simply reacting to bullying and start preventing it.

Through North Middle School Principal Leah Harrell and Bonita Nolan, Coordinated School Health director, the program was implemented at North last year in a trial run and is now in operation on four campuses. South Middle, Huntland and Franklin County High schools are all using the program.

Nolan said North’s 671 students, South’s 408 and FCHS’ 1,445 are all enrolled.

She added that since Huntland school encompasses the elementary, middle and high school levels, all 729 students enrolled there are in the program.

She said the cost to have the program is 69 cents per student annually, meaning the school system spent $2,224.57 to implement it this academic year.

Harrell and Nolan agreed the program should prove to be very effective.

“I like it,” Harrell said. “Our responsibility is to make sure the students are safe, and we want to keep them that way so they can learn.”

Nolan echoed her sentiments.

“I think it will make a difference,” she said. “The main thing is it’s anonymous, so students will report incidences.”

Nolan said they might refrain from reporting infractions if the program were not anonymous.

She explained that reported incidences go through the STOPit company’s computer software system, and no identifying information is forwarded to school leaders handling bullying incidences.

She added that contact can be made back and forth between complaining students and school leaders through the STOPit network without the educators ever knowing who is filing the complaints.

On average, the app has reduced bullying in a single school by as much as 50 percent in the first year, according to STOPit CEO and Founder Todd Schobel.

One school is using the app for a third year and has seen 70 percent fewer incidents of all kinds, ranging from bullying to fighting, he said.

“People are thinking twice before they’re posting, they’re thinking twice before they abuse someone or hurt someone,” Schobel said.

Administrators can also ask follow-up questions through the app, so students remain anonymous but can give more details about their report.

“They get this information, they can see it, and they can get to a child immediately before things spiral out of control,” Schobel said. “It’s just simple, fast and powerful.”

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