App helping kids report bullying makes debut in Kenilworth schools

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Students in Kenilworth are among the first in the country to get access to a smartphone app that makes it easy to put a stop to cyberbullying or reach out for help when they, or someone they know, is in trouble. The STOPit app comes preloaded with tools to report online harassment, anonymously help friends in need and contact teachers, school officials and local police.

Students are asked to snap a screenshot on their phone of the alleged bullying, whether it be on Twitter, Instagram, in text messages or elsewhere, and use the app to send the screenshot to authorities. The app presents users with four choices: Stop It, Friend It, Report It and Help It.

The different buttons allow kids to send a report with their name attached, send one anonymously, talk to police, or get easy access to teachers, coaches and a 24-hour help line.

"I love the help line for kids that are seriously in a bad place," Luciani said. "Unfortunately at 2 a.m., a coach probably isn't around. The app makes it so they can connect with someone, especially if they want to hurt themselves, cut themselves or take some pills."

Todd Schobel, a Tewksbury resident and founder of StopIt, said the idea for the app came about in 2012 when he heard the story of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian whose high profile suicide was spurred by years of bullying.

"When a young person comes under attack, the first thing they want is for it to stop. But it's too much of a monumental task to make it stop themselves, so they go into a corner," Schobel said.

"I think there's a ton of great kids out there, we just wanted give them an easier way to make a difference. Let them, with their phone and a few minutes, perform an act of courage," he said.

Kenilworth was the first school to sign up for the pilot program, which also includes Saint Denis School in Manasquan and a half-dozen other schools across the country, Schobel said.

When StopIt is officially rolled out, schools will be able to pay a license fee to grant students free access, or parents can buy the app independent of a school for $4, Schobel said. The app is available for iPhones, iPods and Android phones.

Luciani, who serves as principal for both the middle and high schools, said the aim of the app was to let kids know there are consequences for what they do online.

"These kids are 13, 14, they're immature, they're going to make mistakes. We're not going to hammer them, but they have to learn that if you do this in college, all that tuition money is gone. You do it at work, you lose your job," Luiciani said.

"Hopefully if they learn it in high school, they make better decisions later, and maybe become more understanding and compassionate toward each other," he said.

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