Simone Green has seen things in the classrooms and halls of Appoquinimink High School that make her feel uncomfortable and even cringe.
But like most students, the fear of retaliation or being snubbed by other students for reporting inappropriate behavior weighs heavily on her decision on whether to tell anyone.
That no longer needs to be the case for students in the Appoquinimink School District.
This week, the district became the only one in the state to launch the STOPit app for students in all grades to be able to anonymously report anything of concern to them. That could range from cyberbullying to threats of violence or self-harm and hazing, to inappropriate behavior.
Once downloaded on a cellphone, tablet or workstation, the app enables students — and even parents — to share concerns in as little 10 seconds with a message from their device.
“Students are the eyes and ears at school. We see everything,” said Green, a junior and member of the student council. “I see things every day and it’s hard to tell your teacher. But now we can report things anonymously without feeling like students are making fun of you or thinking you aren’t cool.”
The app also has a two-way communication function with real-time messaging so administrators and staff members can see what is going on, when it is going on.
Tom Poehlmann, the director of safety, security and operations for the district, said the fact that students can remain anonymous will be a game-changer when it comes to school safety.
“Bullies are empowered by a culture of silence,” Poehlmann said Monday at the unveiling of the app in the Appoquinimink High School Library. “Students who aren’t comfortable confronting them directly have a new way to stand up for themselves and others.”
Poehlmann said it takes just seconds to fire off an anonymous text, photo or video using STOPit and to get it into the hands of an adult trained to investigate and stop trouble.
He explained to Green and other student council members at Monday’s launch that messages received will be monitored by school officials and the company 24/7.
If an incident occurs after hours and is viewed as credible, administrators will be called no matter the time of day. If a school official cannot be reached, the call will go directly to the Delaware State Police.
The cost of all of the K-12 licenses in the district is $5,500 a year, with the optional 24/7 incident monitoring an additional $4,500 annually.
The district’s head of security said no student information is given to the company or the administrators on the other end of the message. He said each student has a school-specific code they use with the app and they have the option of using their name. Nothing is being downloaded from student devices, he said.
Poehlmann said people knowing students have the app can be a deterrent.
“The app empowers any student to reach out,” Poehlmann said. “It fits right in with the ‘see something, do something’ culture in our schools. The app will give a voice to the students and allows them to take action.”
District leaders say the app comes at a time when campus security is on the minds of administrators, teachers, students’ parents and law enforcement.
As late as October, district schools were put on lockdown when a bomb threat was called into Middletown High School.
About 10 minutes later, state police received a second threat saying someone was in the wooded area next to Middletown High School armed with a rifle.
School officials believe if the app would have been available to students then, the lockdown might have been averted.
Delaware State Police Master Cpl. Michael Austin said Monday that while there is no substitute for students dialing 911 in a school crisis, he believes the STOPit app is another layer of notification.
“Students are the ones with the information,” he said. “There are kids out there who want to help. It takes away the stigma of being a snitch.”
Watch the Appo video about the app
- See how the Appo School District video introduced the STOPit app.
How the app evolved
- A year in which 25 school shootings resulting in 143 children, educators and other people being killed and another 289 injured was a factor in researching and administering the app. (Statistics source: Washington Post)
- The fight against bullying and cyberbullying also was a big factor.
- Teachers and staff learned how to use the app during the holiday break in preparation for its launch this week.
- The app is available for download to students in all grades who have a device, as well as teachers, staff and parents.
- To learn more, visit the app’s website.