A new instant messaging app has been launched in a Delaware school district to help curb cyber-bullying, self-harm and violent incidents. And dozens of students and parents are already using the app, reporting more than 100 incidents warranting action.
The STOPit app allows students and parents to share concerns about potentially dangerous situations with a fast, anonymous message from their phone, tablet or desktop. STOPit also offers two-way communications when necessary.
Appoquinimink is the first school district in Delaware to introduce the new reporting tool, which comes as part of an increased emphasis on campus security. The district cited national data showing that for the first six months of 2018, there was an average of one school shooting per week.
Since the app’s launch with school families in January, more than 400 students and parents have downloaded the app.
“I’ve gotten all positive feedback,” said Tom Poehlmann, Appoquinimink’s Director of Safety, Security and Operations.“We’ve gotten approximately 160 reports. A few are meaningless. But the vast majority have been valid reports. One was a report of a potential suicide. The school’s counselor was immediately notified, and it turns out the family had already taken steps to address the issue.”
Poehlmann rolled out the app to all three school divisions (lower, middle, upper) in his district. “Just this morning two elementary kids were having problems on a bus, a parent used the app to communicate the issue, and the counselor was on it right away,” he said.
Poehlmann said it was critical that reporting troubling and potentially threatening situations be made easier for students – previously multiple steps were involved – and that a successful rollout required the entire school community to be supportive.
“We spent the entire fall communicating the benefits of the app to get buy-in from families, teachers and counselors. By the end of November, teachers and counselors started asking me when the app was going to be ready. This, I think, was really the key in having a successful launch and pick-up. Everyone bought into the concept before it even came online.”Poehlmann emphasized that the anonymity of the student reporting any situation is always ensured, unless they choose to voluntarily divulge their identity.
Appoquinimink High School Principal Keisha Brinkley says her school district has had anti-bullying measures in place for more than five years. But the process wasn’t anonymous. And she says schools can never have too many ways for kids to communicate information to administrators. “I think this was definitely a good investment. This platform is just so teenager-friendly.”
And Brinkley says the app has already been extremely helpful. “We did get one report of a student with the potential for self-harm. Some of the kids saw pictures of her on her social media, and we were able to identify the student and get the proper help in place.”
“We believe the real-time feedback will be a game-changer,” said Poehlmann. “If a student says, ‘Mike is getting bullied,’ we can ask where and who is doing it.”
Nick Zema, a representative with the STOPit app, says 70% of all smartphone use involves social media, and that’s where the lion’s share of the cyberbullying takes place. “So kids can see something there, take a screenshot, and send it off anonymously,” he said. More than 3,500 schools nationwide have adopted the STOPit app since its introduction 5 years ago.
Messages received over the app will be monitored continuously by a 3rd party service 24-hours/day, which communicates immediately to school and law enforcement officials, when necessary. If viewed as credible and requiring follow-up, reports will be investigated.
District staff received training late last year and in January every Appoquinimink school set aside time to introduce the feature to students with a short video and discussion. Appoquinimink middle and high schools provide every student with a tablet, and the STOPit app was automatically loaded on their devices at the same time classroom discussions were held.
“We believe this will become a powerful deterrent and an important new tool in school security,” Poehlmann said. The cost of the app is around $1/student. The 24-hour monitoring feature is another 50 cents/student.
Appoquinimink also said it is taking other steps to ensure student safety including training and certification in emergency preparedness and crisis response through the DE Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The district also conducts regular schedule of emergency exercises and lockdown/intruder drills, approved safety plans, and training for staff and students in critical incident and lockdown procedures at every school. Additionally, Delaware State Police officers are stationed at each district high school.