Independence Day: A Time to Reflect on Just How Much We Need Each Other.

Before placing his iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence in 1776, John Hancock turned to his fellow Continental Congress delegates and remarked, “There must be no pulling different ways. We must all hang together.”

“Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together,” Benjamin Franklin replied. “Or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

One of history’s great wits nested a profound point in his gallows humor: It takes unity and common purpose to stand up to a powerful aggressor. It’s as true of fighting the mighty British Army as it is a clique of cyberbullies, bigotry in the office, or sexual harassment by a superior at work.

As we celebrate our nation’s birth this weekend, let’s also consider how we can encourage those in our schools, workplaces and communities to “hang together” with victims of injustice and maltreatment. Sometimes, the weight of confronting their problems is too much to bear on their own.

“Look at the traditional motto of the United States, ‘E pluribus unum – Latin for ‘out of many, one’ — and how relevant its meaning is for us during these trying times,” said Melissa Straub, founder of High Impact Youth Training Solutions, which provides educational training and guidance on issues directly affecting youth, schools, and communities. “One person can truly make an impact and encourage, if not implement, positive change or momentum. One act of kindness, courage, empathy and standing up can change a person’s situation and perception in that moment.”

Anonymous reporting can be a powerful agent for such change. There are any number of reasons why a witness to bullying or harassment won’t stand up for the victim on the spot. Fear of retaliation, of being labeled a snitch, of getting involved in a dispute between strangers, these can all be potent deterrents. That doesn’t mean the witness doesn’t want to help. STOPit offers them a way to pass on important information to trusted authorities and make the situation better – without worrisome barriers.

“We all need to be part of the change, part of the solution and be accountable to each other’s wellbeing,” Straub said. “Reporting is a way to be heard, a voice not to fall on deaf ears, and has proven to make a difference.”

Such was the case when a student used STOPit to let her school know she was worried about a friend who was having problems at home, was cutting herself and sharing suicidal thoughts. The school received the report and informed law enforcement, who performed a health check on the student. It was determined that she needed help and she immediately began receiving counseling.

Of course, the mix of mental health issues combined with access to weapons has been a formula for repeated tragedy in the U.S. Many districts have adopted STOPit as an extra safety layer in their strategies to prevent school shootings. It may have already saved lives.

Recently a student riding the bus to school spotted a weapon in another student’s backpack. The alert rider submitted a report which was fielded by STOPit’s 24/7 Incident Monitoring Service professionals, who rapidly notified the district. School officials met the bus as it pulled in, escorted the student off and seized the weapon before it ever entered the school.

Police agencies are also using STOPit as means to enlist the eyes and ears of upstanders in their communities. Anonymous tips delivered with photo and video evidence have solved crimes in places like Camden, New Jersey – a city which gained national recognition during the George Floyd protests for improving relations between its police and citizenry to reduce crime.

“We’re going to try anything to reach out to the community to open those channels of communication,” Camden County Police Community Commander Lt. Zsakhiem James told FOX 29 about STOPit.

This Independence Day, let’s all take a moment to think about our interdependence. By standing up for each other, we not only help another person, we also protect and promote our own liberty and freedoms – doing our part to build a safer, more inclusive community for all.

Contact STOPit Solutions today to learn how anonymous reporting can encourage upstanders in your community, workplace or school.

Open for Business: What it Means to be Safe at Your Workplace During the Year of the Pandemic

Ready or not, here we come. With the first virtual school year and first corporate quarter of universal work-from-home in history apparently drawing to a close, American workplaces have begun making the methodical decisions and investments necessary to reopen.

A survey of U.S. employers by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that about half expect to bring their staffs back by the end of July. However, (most of) the offices and workspaces employees return to are going to look and feel a lot different than they did during the pre-pandemic era. Among the measures companies are taking to protect their workers:

  • A large majority will enforce new social distancing policies, including limits on the number of people in common areas (83%), spacing work stations further apart (79%) and adding partitions between workers and/or customers (69%).
  • Organizations will reduce the numbers of people on-site at any given time through limits on workers (81%), staggered breaks and shift start/stop times (75%) and limits on customers (78%).
  • Enhanced cleaning procedures will be the norm and nearly 9 in 10 will require the use of hand sanitizer and/or hand-washing before entering certain locations.
  • 86% will require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, and 80% of those employers will provide and pay for it.

But keeping workers physically safe is only half of the challenge. Equally important will be making workers feel safe. Resources from SHRM like its COVID-19 Back-to-Work checklist and tech tools like STOPit Solutions’ anonymous reporting and communications app are playing important roles in the transition back to a more ‘normal’ work experience. 

Even with the most thoughtful plan and effective procedures, however, it won’t be easy as anxiety levels remain high. A majority of Americans believe a second wave of COVID-19 is around the corner and that the re-opening process is moving too fast. At the same time, resistance to social distancing measures has solidified among those who believe the risk of COVID-19 has been overblown.

Many a clip has gone viral on social media showing arguments like this one between a Costco employee and a customer who refused to wear a mask on the grounds that he “woke up in a free country.” The customer filmed the employee, who held his ground and said into the camera, “Hi everyone. I work for Costco and I’m asking this member to put on a mask because that is our company policy.”

Costco President and CEO Craig Jelinek backed the employee, stating, “We know some members may find [the requirement to wear a face covering] inconvenient or objectionable, but under the circumstances we believe the added safety is worth any inconvenience. This is not simply a matter of personal choice; a face covering protects not just the wearer, but others too.” In fact, a mounting body of evidence has shown that the use of face masks has been highly effective in slowing transmission of the disease.

Costco’s response offers a critical lesson for managers who will soon lead their staffs into uncharted waters. There is no 100% perfect way to re-open – but once you’ve settled on your ground rules, everyone needs to be held accountable for following them – no exceptions. This is especially important as senior management considers the implications of not having an updated policy on health and safety standards. Businesses who reopen without the right tools and accommodations may run the risk of increased exposure to liability claims from employees who fall ill from COVID-19.

Clear, evidence-based actions boost morale and protect Health (and productivity!)

This is a fluid time, when decision-makers in government and industry are doing their best to combat a disease in an environment of rapidly evolving understanding and an avalanche of mis- and even dis-information. Some workers literally fear for their lives. They are counting on management to take the danger seriously and embrace any resource available to protect them.

Employees are not interested in getting caught up in a culture war debate about masks or keeping 6 feet apart. They just want to survive and keep their families safe. If employees don’t feel management is 100% in their corner on the issue, staff retention is bound to suffer. No matter how poor the job market, people will not endure the risk to their health, word will travel about their poor perception of your company culture, and possibly negatively influence your ability to recruit top candidates.

STOPit can play an important role in maintaining staff morale in these crucial months to come. As time goes on, some employees will undoubtedly begin testing their companies’ new safety policies and even bullying or harassing co workers who feel and behave very differently regarding safety protocols. The STOPit app could be used to empower employees who feel threatened or are being ridiculed to safety, anonymously alert management – either for themselves or for fellow co-workers – letting them know about safety violations and/or incidents of bullying and intimidation. Because the STOPit app protects anonymity, employees can ask for help and be spared the need to engage in uncomfortable confrontations that may even pose a threat to their health.

STOPit’s integrated messaging function and incident management system creates an intuitive, professional virtual ‘safe space’ where employers can respond to requests for help and better maintain morale and trust essential to a healthy corporate culture, and especially important during a time of change and uncertainty.

Contact STOPit Solutions today to learn more about how its technology platform and services can help ease your staff’s transition back to the workplace.

Helpful resources

CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 page

National Alliance on Mental Illness COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide

The National League of Cities COVID-19 Pandemic Response Website

SHRM’s (Society for Human Resource Management) COVID-19 Back-to-Work Checklist

Senior Year Stress: The Impact of a High School Senior Year Interrupted.

Right about now, they’d be practicing their procession toward the stage with the school band. Right about now, they’d be planning a “senior cut day” to the beach. Right about now, they’d be anxiously awaiting dorm assignments, planning backyard graduation parties, spending time with lifelong friends from whom they’d soon be separated.

“I expected to be stressed, but stressed about the good things,” Dunbar High School senior De’Asia Scott observed to WTOP radio in Washington, D.C. “But in reality, I’m stressed about the same thing that everybody else is stressed about.”

That would be COVID-19, the destroyer of plans for America’s high school seniors. As the spring transitioned to summer, the coronavirus graduated from a threat that disrupted school schedules to one that is forcing students to rethink the first steps of their new lives.

Those who choose not to go the college route will soon enter a job market with unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression. Entire industries are shut down across the country — some poised to reopen this summer, but with the specter of a fall coronavirus resurgence looming large.

That prospect hasn’t been lost on the nation’s soon-to-be university freshmen. With higher-ed institutions already announcing remote or hybrid semesters in the fall, the odds of completing an uninterrupted term in person are clearly in doubt.

In a Carnegie Dartlett survey of 2,800 high school seniors, 33% said they’d defer or cancel their admission if classes were going to be held remotely. They want the college experience of their dreams – one where they’ll meet new friends, live away from their parents and enjoy all that campus life offers – and aren’t willing to sacrifice it for another indefinite string of months doing Zoom meetings. The idea of a gap year has even gained support with many parents, who are skeptical of paying full tuition for virtual learning.

High stress. High stakes.

The decisions today’s seniors face are difficult and carry great consequences. Not surprisingly, the emotions they’re experiencing are being shared across the globe.

According to research commissioned by Cluey Learning, 90 percent of Australian seniors reported feeling stressed by this year’s school disruptions, with a majority finding it even more troubling than typical teen factors like friendship pressures, family issues and body image concerns.

“The class of 2020 are under enormous pressure, and it’s understandable that their study is being impacted,” Cluey Chief Learning Officer Dr. Selina Samuels said. “But this is a unique opportunity for senior students to build resilience by learning how to manage their stress. If students can adapt to these changing circumstances, they’ll find that not only do they have a brilliant story to tell during interviews, but that they’ll approach everything else in life with just a little more confidence.”

Kids don’t need to go it alone. There’s help – and hope.

Certainly the only thing we know for sure right now is that the future is even more unpredictable than ever. But as Dr. Samuels acknowledged, the challenges that this year’s high school seniors face can also serve as opportunities to build emotional resilience and practice healthy self-care principals – two goals that are very possible thanks to new and refocused mental health and wellness resources available through federal, and local organizations.

For schools in the STOPit Solutions community, STOPit offers a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Center containing an easy-to-search database of thousands of articles, studies, video, audio and other content that can help school administrators assist with today’s elevated teen stress levels. The content is carefully curated by top experts in SEL-related fields and can be shared with individual students or broadcast to the full student body through the STOPit app.

In light of current events, STOPit is also offering a number of free and paid webinars, videos, and SEL resources on its website to aid educators in engaging with students. To view this content, visit https://stopitsolutions.com/covid-19/.

 

Additional Resources from the STOPit Blog

Additional Mental Health and Wellness Resources

Contact STOPit today and learn more about the anonymous reporting app being used to improve safety, mental health and well-being in more than 6,000 schools, nationwide. 

Masked-Up and Burned-Out: Collateral Damage From The Pandemic Is Taking Its Toll On American Workers

It’s two months into the stay-at-home orders that most states in the US have decreed for non-essential workers and roughly half of Americans are working from home. Amidst all the uncertainty engendered by this pandemic, one thing is for sure – this experience has forever dispelled the notion of telecommuting as something “easier” or “more relaxed” than being in the office.

The physical and mental barriers that once separated our home lives from our work lives have been demolished. When 5 p.m. rolled around in early March, you may have been on the hook to pick up a child from practice or get on a train, so hovering around the office a while longer wasn’t an option. Now the kids live in your office and there’s nowhere to go, so you keep typing away … til 5:27 … 5:52 … 6:23 …

As Bloomberg recently noted, “People have turned their living spaces into makeshift offices, making it nearly impossible to disconnect.” The article profiled John Foster, who like many of us, converted an extra room into a workspace but found it to be a constant reminder of his job while he was off the clock. “’You walk by 20 times a day,’ he said. ‘Every time you pass there, you’re not escaping work.’”

Even by early April, an Eagle Consulting poll of Americans found that 45% were feeling work burnout and 25% directly blamed COVID-19 for it. Among the additional findings:

  •  36% said their organizations were doing nothing to help them deal with burnout
  •  The changes in their lives brought on by COVID-19 made 50% feel less connected to their colleagues and 45% feel less productive
  •  A separate poll conducted by the firm found that 55% feared for their job security due to the coronavirus

“Culture is what holds an organization together, so it’s never been more critical to lean hard into culture during these tough times; to build a sense of community and support among the workforce,” said Melissa Jezior, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Hill Consulting. “If employers can help fill the void employees are feeling, that can empower them to overcome the many obstacles on the road ahead.”

Want To Retain Your Best Employees? Vacation, Vacation, Vacation.

One way companies can reinforce their positive culture is to encourage employees to take time off. Despite the clear need, people are not using their vacation days. Doubtless, some are feeling extra pressure to prove their value at a time when 38 million have filed for unemployment benefits.

This is especially true for workers whose supervisors signal that they don’t trust what they will do when they aren’t under their watchful eye. A word to the wise: Just a few months ago, the job market was so solid that it was hard to find high-quality candidates for open positions. Sooner or later, the pandemic will pass, and the star performers who felt taken for granted will go somewhere else where they will be shown plenty of positive attention.

With travel off the table for most, and even excursions to restaurants out of the question, workers also may not be asking for time off because they feel that there’s nowhere to go. For their own good, urge them to turn off their computers, avoid their work apps and take a short staycation. Promise them that you won’t bombard them with work emails while they’re off, so they don’t come back to a stressful mountain of messages. There’s actually a strong health case for the break.

“Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury,” Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne cautioned in Psychology Today. “When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident.”

Now, as ever, a person’s productivity at work depends on their overall health and wellness – physical as well as mental health. If you’re responsible for recruiting and retention for your organization, make sure you have a plan to encourage all employees to take the time they need (and have earned) to rest and recharge. Good for them, good for your company, too. 

Additional Resources from STOPit Solutions

Want to learn more about STOPit and how anonymous reporting tools are improving employee recruitment and retention across the US? Schedule your demo today.

5 Changes Parents Are Making To Summertime Plans During the Pandemic

“Dad, are we going to have summer this year?”

The question from Matt’s young daughter, Cassady, offered a glimpse into her emotional state. She was feeling the stress and confusion from COVID-19 and worrying whether “normal” would ever return. Matt knew he needed to make her believe it would, and then make it happen.

“Yes, we’re going to have an unforgettable summer,” he reassured her. “It’s going to be a little different than past years, but we’re going to have fun and lots of new adventures.” Matt sat down with Cassady and asked her to brainstorm on all the fun things they could do this summer while social distancing. In just a few minutes, they filled two and a half blank pages.

Meanwhile, he also had to think about Cassady’s older brother, who as a rising seventh-grader, was too old for traditional camp but too young to be totally self-sufficient. The family was taking social distancing guidelines seriously, so letting him go to the beach or play pickup hoops games with his friends was out of the question. Without a plan in place, Matt worried it would be a long summer consumed by video games and social media. 

The bottom line is, summer must go on this year. To ensure children’s social and emotional learning continues, they need regular opportunities to play, exercise and socialize with their peers.

Parents will need to get creative to fill the void left behind by summer camps, family trips, visits with relatives and playing with friends. Amid the uncertainty, they are pivoting to alternatives they know they can rely on whether the pandemic sustains or worsens.

Virtual ‘Camps’

Just like the millions of parents who transitioned to working remotely, traditional summer camps are doing their best to replicate their activities virtually. It’s a formidable challenge for the traditional day camps that thrive on outdoor fun with large groups of kids. “That phrase, ‘social distancing,’ is not really in a camp’s vocabulary,” Ron Hall, executive director of the nonprofit Maine Summer Camps, told CNN. Yet many are ready to try, and are offering financial incentives such as affordable registration fees and steep discounts for next summer’s tuition if you support their business today. Parents should check the offerings at camps in their area, as each is approaching the challenge in its own way and the pandemic’s prevalence varies from place to place.

STEM and Art Classes

Kids can mix up the fun with weekly science and art camps offered both by local businesses and by national leaders in the virtual learning experience space. New Jersey’s Brookdale Community College has partnered with tech-education leader Black Rocket to organize a series of Virtual Summer STEAM Camps offering kids ages 8-14 live lessons in video game design, coding, creating YouTube content, and deep dives into popular games like Minecraft and Fortnight. In-person Lego camps like Bricks 4 Kidz and Snapology have been very effective in moving their operations online, developing daily build challenges for various age groups and even moderating Lego play dates and birthday parties. Local art and culinary camps have adapted, too, offering curbside pickup for supplies that will be used each day for their online lessons. How about a ballet lesson from Misty Copeland or a basketball clinic with Stephen Curry? Teens and tweens can find affordable opportunities to train with their heroes in the arts and sports through online subscription services like MasterClass

Fun Home Improvements

The cost of some camps isn’t far off from a semester of college, yet, many parents work throughout the summer and need safe and healthy day activities for their kids. Fortunately, many of the alternatives emerging now recognize that there needs to be – and should be – affordable options for everyone. 

With the expense of traditional camp off the books for many, some parents are choosing to invest a portion of that savings in equipment and home improvements that can entertain their kids all season long. Outdoor infrastructure like a basketball hoop or volleyball net, or indoor amusements like ping pong or pool tables can make memories (and rivalries) that will last a lifetime. If your child really misses the park, you can order a swing, slide and clubhouse set for the backyard — the assembly may even be a welcome diversion for dad. 

Get Outside

States ruled that outdoor play would be exceptions to the stay-at-home orders for good reason. It’s healthy, it’s safe, and it’s essential for keeping kids active at a time when the entire country, adults included, is basically grounded. Parents with yards should encourage their kids to go outside and give them leeway to do whatever they find fun, even if it’s messy. “Parents worry they don’t have outside activities for their kids, but the reality is children naturally know how to play,” Christy Merrick, director of Natural Start Alliance, observed in National Geographic. It also happens to be a uniquely good time to enjoy the outdoors, as data has shown dramatic improvements in air quality and other environmental conditions since March.

Keep Social While Distancing

With a bit of imagination and a healthy dose of personal responsibility, friends can find ways to spend time together. It’s a matter of figuring out ways to keep far enough away from each other to avoid risk, yet close enough to carry on a conversation. Taking a well-distanced bike ride through the neighborhood can be a great way to exercise and socialize. The same can be said for hikes on a nature trail or even walks through the neighborhood with the kids keeping to opposite sides of the street.

Be Alert for Online Abuse

Of course, the pandemic has driven so much of young people’s social lives online. The use of social media, screen-sharing apps and text messaging have surged as kids try to stay in touch and maintain a semblance of their social lives. With this greater reliance on digital communications comes the increased risk of cyber-bullying and abuse.

Although classes will conclude in a few weeks, schools who have partnered with a reliable anonymous reporting tool like STOPit should continue monitoring their account for reports of abuse, bullying or other threatening and harmful behaviors. And for increased coverage as summer break begins, STOPit’s 24/7 incident monitoring service is a valuable add-on to ensure that any time-sensitive reports receive immediate attention.

Whether it’s this fall or a year from now, America will beat COVID-19 and send its kids back to school. It will be crucial that they aren’t carrying with them tensions that were brewed online, adding to what will already be a stressful situation for school staff, parents and students alike.

Contact STOPit today to learn how it’s anonymous reporting platform can help thwart cyberbullying and conflicts within your student body throughout the summer months.

Act Now: Schools Can Apply to Get STOPit Solutions’ Award-Winning Safety Platform at No Cost

“Don’t wait. There are students who need this right now and students who will need it more than ever when school returns to ‘normal’ from COVID-19.”

–Chris Moddelmog, Executive Director, Smoky Hill Education Service Center

The nation’s Educational Service Agencies (ESA) provide schools with important resources by creating efficiencies and opportunities through strategic partnerships. Not only do they help member districts create financial strength by improving their purchasing power, but they also make it easier for schools to apply for a wide variety of grant funding opportunities available nationwide. These grants are often used to pay for priorities like school safety and student mental health programs. In fact, many ESAs are right now working with partner schools to apply for federal STOP School Violence Act grants that will cover the launch of STOPit’s anonymous reporting platform in schools at no cost to the district.

Among them is the Smoky Hill Education Service Center, which represents public and private school districts in 25 Kansas counties. The ESA and STOPit have already pooled their grant writing expertise to obtain funding to set up the app in 50 school districts. STOPit recently spoke with Smoky Hill Executive Director, Chris Moddelmog, to find out more about this opportunity and what his stakeholders are saying about the grant application and implementation process.

STOPit: What have you heard from your schools about working with STOPit?

“The feedback has been fantastic, from the introductions to the technology to the experience of getting to know more about the organization. Members of the STOPit team are easy to get in touch with and they’re always open to our ideas about the best ways to implement the solution in the schools. All of the schools I’ve talked to say it’s been easy to work with STOPit.”

STOPit: What were your goals for working with STOPit? What benefits did you hope it would bring for your school districts? 

“First and foremost, student health and wellbeing,” says Moddelmog. “We wanted to provide them with a solution that would make a difference. No learning can take place in our classrooms if the students are anxious, fearful and depressed. STOPit’s solutions and the services they offer to counselors and school resource officers are great, and we’d like to make them available to all of our schools. 

I’d also like to use the data collected by the system to learn more about the specific kinds of issues that are being reported in the schools,” he says. “This information will be valuable to our school districts and help us work with them to deliver exactly the kind of help our students need.” 

STOPit: What makes Educational Service Agencies so well-positioned to help schools implement high-level resources like STOPit’s anonymous reporting app and other services?

“For schools that need help with instructional strategies or accessing tools like STOPit, we have those consultants on staff and can send them to schools to get that work done without additional financial or staff burden. We’re also nimble and can sometimes allocate resources more effectively than a small school district can,” says Moddelmog.

“We have close working relationships with our districts,” he continues. “They get calls from everyone under the sun trying to sell them something. We promise our districts that when we bring them something, we’ve answered the questions, ‘Is this something our districts really need and will it provide real value?’ We vet the companies and only suggest opportunities after we’ve conducted due diligence to be able to confidently recommend the service and/or service provider. That’s why we feel completely comfortable recommending STOPit.”

STOPit: ESAs can take advantage of the STOP School Violence Act to acquire federal grants for STOPit services, but time is of the essence. What should ESA administrators be doing right now to ensure their schools can acquire these funds?

“When we partner to apply for STOP School Violence Act grants, the process couldn’t be simpler for schools. Once a district has selected the specific menu of STOPit services that suits its needs, STOPit writes the grant, submits the application, sets up the technology, trains school staff to use it, and helps build excitement for it throughout the student body and community.”

Moddelmog concludes, 

“Don’t wait. There are students who need this right now and students who will need it more than ever when school returns to “normal” from COVID-19. Students and staff will come back and we’ll be dealing with something that they’ve never dealt with before. Schools can either contact STOPit directly to set up a time to demo the app, or they can call me first to talk about the success we’ve seen and our experience.”

Contact STOPit today to learn more about their anonymous reporting platform and how you can work with your regional ESA to implement anonymous reporting in your district, for free.  

The deadline to contact STOPit to affirm interest in this opportunity is May 15. The deadline to submit a grant application for the current grants cycle is June 9, 2020.

Schools are Winning Grants to Improve Safety and Security on Campus: Read How.

“Nothing is easy in education, but they (STOPit Solutions and our ESA) made it very easy to apply for this grant. It was just so nice to be able to go through a process this straightforward.” Kathy Robertson, Support Services and Security administrator, El Dorado Schools District. 

School administrators around the country are taking advantage of an exceptional funding opportunity to improve safety and security at their schools and get STOPit’s anonymous reporting system – at no cost. Educational Service Agencies (ESA’s) are not-for-profit cooperatives that pool important resources for member school districts, making them easier to access and more affordable to taxpayers. Thanks to a special partnership between ESA’s and STOPit Solutions, many schools are getting the grant-writing assistance they need to successfully apply for federal STOP School Violence Grant Program funding, for free. 

Simple Process. Successful Outcomes.

Kathy Robertston and Melanie Burris, representatives from two school districts that successfully applied for funding, share their experience about the application process and why they chose STOPit.

STOPit: Can you briefly describe the process of working with your ESA and STOPit to secure funding?

“A former coworker of mine from another school district reached out to let us know about the opportunity. We were told about an online demo that we could go through to learn more about STOPit and then follow up with any questions,” says Kathy Robertson, Support Services and Security administrator for the El Dorado (Kansas) Schools District. “After it was over, we jumped right on the opportunity. I had to provide STOPit and the ESA with some basic contact information, some numbers for how many kids are in our schools, and that was about it. We started the whole process on December 5; we got our approval on December 13.”

Melanie Burris, Instructional Supervisor and Federal Programs Coordinator for the Dardanelle (Arkansas) Public Schools, shares a similar experience. 

“The process was very easy. The ESA and STOPit worked together on the application, so for us, it wasn’t tedious or time-consuming at all. They handled the bulk of the work – all I had to do was supply some information about our demographics and a few more small details. Whenever I emailed the team with questions, I got immediate responses. We even found out about our grant approval quickly.”

STOPit: Why was implementing an anonymous reporting system like STOPit important for your school district?

“Prior to STOPit, the only option we had was a place that students could go online and fill out a Google survey, and the reports would go to the district’s communications director,” says Robertson. “The State of Kansas also has an anonymous, state-run hotline that students can submit tips to, and that information goes to the State Police, but few kids will use that. We really wanted something more for our district,” she continues. “Something that is customizable and can better accommodate the needs of our students and staff. One very important thing for us is that STOPit has 24-hour monitoring service, so emergencies can be reported day and night, weekend and holidays.”

Burris and her senior administration team had similar reasons for choosing the STOPit app.

“One of the reasons I investigated the tool was that our high school wanted to find a way to allow students to report incidents anonymously. When we learned STOPit was available and we were allowed to try it for free, our principal said, ‘Let’s do it.’,” she says.

“The reporting tools are a big benefit,” Burris continues. “Giving students the ability to report something that they wouldn’t have otherwise – because they know it’s guaranteed to remain anonymous – is a game changer.”

Burris concludes with a note about how COVID-19 has impacted their timetable for launching the tool. But she’s clear that getting started is simple, and they’ve already started training staff to be ready for when students return in the fall.

“We haven’t had the chance to roll it out to students due to COVID-19, but I was able to go through the process of training our principal and assistant principal. STOPit conducted the training with me through Zoom and walked me through all of the different things our schools needed to do to get started. It was straightforward; their customer care team is great, giving us every confidence this will be a tremendous benefit to our kids and school community.” 

Thanks to this partnership between STOPit and ESA’s, the process to apply is simple and the rate of success for obtaining funding is high – 100 percent so far.

We do the work. Schools get the grants. Act now.

STOP Act grants are awarded to help schools improve their security by providing the tools to recognize, respond quickly to, and help prevent acts of violence. 

Contact STOPit today to learn more about the anonymous reporting platform and how you can work with your regional ESA to implement anonymous reporting in your district, for free.  

The deadline to contact STOPit to affirm interest in this opportunity and provide grant input is May 15. The deadline to submit a grant application for the current grants cycle is June 9, 2020.

Not Everyone Is #SafeAtHome. Domestic Abuse Calls Surge During Quarantine for COVID-19.

After a month in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis, America can so far take a small measure of solace in its crime statistics. Cities across the country are reporting significant drops in arrests, including the pandemic’s epicenter, New York, which reported a 20% decline in its five boroughs and transit system during the March 12-31 period that followed its state of emergency declaration. Chicago also reported a 23% plummet in major crime categories in the first week that followed its stay-at-home order. 

This is a logical trend in the short run — when 80 percent of society is self-quarantining in their homes, a drop in incidents such as drunk driving, theft and vandalism would be expected. But authorities worry that it’s only a matter of time before the unnatural pressures that COVID-19 is placing on society could begin carrying ramifications.

Already, police around the country are cracking down on hate crimes and threats against Asian Americans, who are being scapegoated due to the pandemic’s possible origin in China. Cyber crime, online bullying and predatory behavior are rising concerns, due in large part to the extra time young people are spending online. Price gouging has also been a problem, as items like sanitizers, cleaning supplies and surgical masks are at a premium. Neighborhood watch groups warn of an increase in car break-ins across the country. 

One of the most disturbing, recent trends, however is the increased number of domestic violence calls. The New York Times reports that in countries such as China and Spain, which suffered the full brunt of COVID-19 earlier than the U.S., data has emerged showing that hotlines were overwhelmed with reports of abuse. Now advocacy groups in America are sounding the alarm and asking for help protecting the victims. 

“It is possible that the increase we are seeing in domestic violence calls could be related to the coronavirus,” Geneva County, Alabama Sheriff Tony Helms told The Dothan Eagle. “People are out of work or working less, and more people are at home, and they have a lot on their minds and stress is taking a toll.”

Domestic disputes – a chronically underreported crime in normal times due to the pressures of reporting loved ones – could be extra dangerous at this moment. Because the coronavirus poses a safety issue for victims to even leave the house, they may feel added pressure to stay at home with their abusers or find it impossible to call the police without being overheard.

At times like these, anonymous reporting systems can save lives. STOPit Solutions’ anonymous reporting app, widely acclaimed for curbing bullying and harassment in schools, is being adopted by a growing number of law enforcement agencies as a crime-fighting tool. With an ultra-simple interface that looks and functions like an ordinary text message system, STOPit provides victims or witnesses of crimes a platform to quietly share information with police.

Once a tip is shared, police and senders can carry on a text conversation, with the app protecting the person’s identity. Anonymity is guaranteed – not even STOPit knows who the senders are. Just like with ordinary phone texts, senders can use the app to forward images and videos. That means the public has a round-the-clock back channel to deliver police concrete audio and visual evidence – the gold standard of prosecutions.

STOPit public safety partner, the Camden County (New Jersey) Police Department, registered 600 users and received 500 tips in its first two months. To show STOPit’s effectiveness and simplicity, Camden Police welcomed Philadelphia’s FOX 29 News into its Real Time Tactical Intelligence Center, where officers could view a list of tips on an electronic board.

“You can actually send us a picture so we can see exactly what you’re looking at instead of offering vague eyewitness descriptions, and you can text back and forth with an officer inside the app without them ever knowing who you are,”  Camden County Police Community Commander Lt. Zsakhiem James said. 

There are, of course, any number of reasons why someone would prefer to keep their identity quiet: Fear of reprisal, alienating family or friends, a lack of time, or even a lack of certainty (Did I just see what I thought I saw?). Technologies like STOPit are presenting new possibilities for citizens to share information with police without the fear of becoming entangled in the investigation.

Call STOPit today to learn more about how anonymous reporting can be implemented in your jurisdiction to improve the flow of information between the community and police.

Q&A: Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis: SEL and Distance Learning – Tips for Parents and Youth to Stay Safe and Adjust

Melissa Straub is the founder of High Impact Youth Training Solutions, LLC, a consulting company that provides educational training and guidance on issues directly affecting youth, schools, and communities. We spoke with Melissa about how parents can deal with the challenges they’re facing in balancing working from home, virtual schooling, and the constantly evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: The pandemic is a once in a century event that American parents, or even their parents, have never experienced. How can we address our children’s fear of the unknown at such a volatile moment?

Talking to your kids and assuring them they are safe is essential. Talk about what COVID-19 is and what it’s not, and debunk the rumors and false information. Reassure them that we all will get through this with a unified effort, but that we all need to take responsibility in order to stop the virus’ spread. Model the behavior you’re instilling and be aware of your own actions and words. Use age-appropriate language and simple terminology.

Let the children participate in setting the new norms for school scheduling and their other day-to-day activities and expectations. Children like to be heard and involved, and they crave structure. It’s OK for them to be fearful and it’s normal to have some sense of hopelessness. Reassure them, validate their concerns and encourage continuous conversations. 

Q: You touched on the importance of involving kids in setting the rules of the road during this time of home confinement. How can we do that constructively?

First things first, sit down and discuss what the new normal should be. Have the kids participate and provide input — they love to have a voice. Parents need to accept that the typical school day may be shortened and the work may not be as demanding as if the kids were attending school normally – you just have to go with the flow. Instill regular routines around bathing, sleep times, mealtimes and free time with some flexibility. Explain that teamwork and patience will be needed from everyone, since schedules and activities may have to change at times due to family members’ needs. Mom and dad are also working and have deadlines that need to be considered.

Q: Being cooped up in the house with your family for weeks or maybe months is bound to lead to some friction. How can we mitigate these conflicts?

There is no doubt that emotions are heightened within the family unit due to all of the unknowns and the stress of adjusting to distance learning. There will be some psychological fallout, feelings of isolation, anxiety and disconnectedness. We all need to pay attention to those ever-evolving emotions and do our best to address them. Having periodic check-ins or family meetings is key. Take that opportunity to initiate conversations and provide validation. If there is a notable change, please contact your family physician or look for online solutions and resources. Don’t ignore the issues, as they may get worse. Explain that it is normal to feel this way, that “we” can get through it, and this time in our lives is unprecedented but will pass in due time.

While we are all now familiar with the term “social distancing” and are practicing it the best we can, we still need to be social. We are social creatures by nature and kids more than ever will crave to fill the void in their lives. Encourage your kids to reach out to friends, family and others using the gift of technologies like FaceTime and Skype. We should also recognize the misinformation and bias that have become rampant during this crisis. Parents should be talking about diversity, inclusion and empathy throughout this time.

Mindfulness is a tool that can help ease both the mind and the body for all family members. Support moments of self-reflection, quiet and breathing, if only for a few moments a day. Taking a few minutes for the mind-body connection is essential during times of crisis and can help you adjust to the stressors.

Q: For many families, internet and TV time quotas have gone out the window, as parents can’t entertain their kids while they’re working. At the same time, the kids could be exposed to some frightening stories and messages related to COVID-19. How would you advise parents to deal with that?

Discussing the news and media coverage that your kids are seeing and hearing online is very important for demystifying the elephant in the room. Try to impose limits on the potential exposure, turn the TV off when children are in the room, and provide for open-ended conversation at the dinner table each night. While they are in the distance learning zone, outside of the educational material they have to engage with, have them explore other sites to keep them occupied. Several sites are offering virtual museum tours, educational resources and fun activities to keep children engrossed.  Emphasize the need for them to be socially responsible with the content they encounter by stressing the simple message, “If you see something, say something.”

Finally, have the courage to stand up and make a difference to help one another. This crisis is one that involves all of us and humanity will be measured when it’s finished.

Curious why over 5,000 organizations worldwide are using STOPit’s anonymous reporting software and 24/7/365 monitoring services?

When Kids Are Not #SafeAtHome: Cyberbullying Is An Increased Threat During COVID19

Last week, COVID-19’s impacts spread from the nightly news to the daily lives of millions of parents. With people in states across the country facing stay-at-home orders, employees transitioning to new work-from-home lifestyles and school buildings shuttered, Americans are trying to adjust to a new way of life that doesn’t appear likely to change any time soon.

Teachers and staff are doing their best to keep up productivity with the help of technology. At the same time, their job descriptions have expanded to include the duties of de facto school IT people, classroom aides, lunchroom monitors, principals and custodians, all while praying their kids don’t burst into their Zoom meetings.

And at the same time, in many households schedules are still in flux and in many cases, rules about screen time have been relaxed as a matter of survival in the struggle to balance parenting and work-from-home responsibilities. And at a time when kids are being forced apart from their friends, apps like FaceTime and group texts are not only being tolerated but encouraged. Social and emotional learning must continue, after all.

At the expense of adding one more worry to parents’ and teachers’ minds, the spike in online socializing carries the potential for a commensurate increase in cyberbullying. Dr. Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, spoke of the looming challenge in a blog post.  

“Some of it will be mild, and some of it will be severe,” Hunduja said. “Some of it will be what they’re used to and won’t bother them, and some of it will be brand new—and a jarring, wounding experience. This may be especially true for those not used to learning and interacting in this way (and we are seeing how socio-economic inequities are being magnified because of the coronavirus).”

The FBI issued an alert on March 23, advising educators and caregivers to be vigilant for signs of online sexual exploitation and predatory behavior at a time when kids are particularly vulnerable. This view was echoed by Purdue University Polytechnic Institute Associate Professor Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, an expert in cyberdeviance, who cautioned it may not be easy to detect the problems.

“Kids are usually not forthcoming with issues of cyberbullying because they’re afraid of losing their technology,” she said. “Some teens would rather be cyberbullied than have their Facebook page or Instagram account shut down.”

The threat of cyberbullying appears especially acute for students of Asian backgrounds: Authorities have reported numerous incidents of harassment and even violence directed toward Asian Americans, tied to the virus’ likely origin in China. Online, Asians are being scapegoated as the cause of the pandemic, mocked as belonging to cultures that eat bats and vermin, and even taunted by those who refer to COVID-19 in terms such as “the Chinese virus.” Some prominent Asian Americans have responded by sharing their stories on social media using the hashtag #WashtheHate.

A consortium of Asian American and Pacific Islander advocacy organizations last week launched Stop AAPI Hate, an online tool where victims or those who have witnessed anti-Asian violence, bullying or harassment can anonymously report incidents. The organizations plan to use the data to develop education and media campaigns, provide resources for impacted individuals, and advocate for policies and programs dedicated to curtailing racial profiling.

“We are currently providing support to a child who had to go to the emergency room after he was assaulted and accused by bullies of having the coronavirus, and so that tells us we may need to work with schools to address shunning and school bullying but we need to know how widespread it is,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, one of the groups that developed the reporting tool.

Anonymous reporting is a proven solution for dealing with cyberbullying, abuse and harassment issues in real time. STOPit’s easy-to-use app can serve as a critical avenue of information between students and school administrators at a time when young people are uniquely vulnerable. Tips submitted through STOPit will enable teachers to monitor, investigate, and take action against bad behavior in their virtual classrooms. 

Administrators can also use the app’s broadcast feature to share important resources with students that educate them on the threats and how to deal with them. STOPit’s own professionals can monitor the account during off hours to ensure that urgent reports are dealt with quickly.

Contact STOPit today to learn more about how anonymous reporting can help protect your student’s well-being throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Curious why over 5,000 organizations worldwide are using STOPit’s anonymous reporting software and 24/7/365 monitoring services?

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