School unveils app to prevent bullying

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CHERRYVALE — Cherryvale Middle and High School administrators hope a new cellphone app will help stop bullying behavior in the school and keep students safe.

The school is home to 325 students in the seventh through 12th grade, all in the same building. The app, STOPit, was developed by a New Jersey company that a parent in the Cherryvale district heard about it and mentioned to administrators, who began research on it.

Assistant Principal James Renfro said administrators agreed to try it and paid $950 for the school to use the app for a year. The school can use up to 500 downloads of the app.

STOPit was developed to help students and schools stop bullying behavior. Students with the app can report — anonymously — any inappropriate or bullying behavior via text message. Renfro can respond to the text to seek additional information, but he won’t know who is texting him the information, photo, video or screen shot. Administrators can then make inquiries about the report and open a file that documents all their actions.

Renfro announced the app to students in a school-wide assembly Friday morning. He walked the students through the process of downloading and setting up the app. He used a big screen behind him to show students the steps involved in using the app.

He began his presentation by explaining one of the roles he plays in the school. While some students may consider him mean, he said he has to enforce rules, even if he doesn’t agree with them.

The main purpose behind rules and his enforcing them, he said, is to keep students safe and promote a good learning environment.

“We want you to come in here, enjoy your day, be safe and learn as much as you possibly can,” Renfro said.

He said some believe Cherryvale is a good school; “I want us to be a great school.”

This is accomplished in part through relationships. Students create good relationships with teachers, cooks, maintenance staff, administration and school secretaries.

“Those relationships are what make us a great school.”

He told students, “We love all of you. We’re on your side. We’re here for you.”

Renfro said student cellphones drive him crazy and he hates them. But this app makes them a useful tool through which students can communicate with him about concerns in the school.

The app has two options for students. First, they can report situations they see or hear about. This is done via text message, but it offers the ability to send a picture, video or a screen shot.

“That’s an opportunity for you to send that directly to me,” Renfro said.

The great thing about the app is, “I don’t know who sends it. It’s 100 percent anonymous.”

Renfro said he can respond to the text message to get more details, but he won’t know with whom he’s communicating. If a report comes in that Billy got spit on in third hour, he could text the student back and ask for details, what classroom, for example. Then, administration can begin an inquiry into the situation and use the app to help document the steps they take. So if Billy’s mom comes into school asking about her son being bullied, Renfro said he can refer to the documentation in the matter and provide information to Billy’s mother.

Renfro said the ease of reporting is only a small part of why he likes the app.

The main reason he likes the app is that it offers a direct phone line to the Four County Mental Health hotline under the “get help” option. Students can use this option 24 hours a day, any day of the year.

“If there is something going on in your life that you can’t talk to somebody here about, you can’t talk to your friends about it, you can’t talk to your mom about … here’s an opportunity for you.”

Texting is not an option for “get help,” so students must talk to a live person.

At the end of the day, he said getting help to students who need it is what’s important.

Renfro asked students to take the app seriously and use it when appropriate. He said he can deactivate the app on phones of users who abuse it.

He shared some examples of things that could be reported on the app, including bullying or harassment issues on social media or in the school building. Even things that happen outside of school could have an effect on students when they come to school.

“We’re going to deal with it,” he said, adding that school staff does not want students worried in the building about events happening elsewhere.

The school staff’s No. 1 goal is to give students the tools to become successful in life.

“I’m excited about it. I hope you guys are excited about it and I hope you take it seriously. And I hope it makes your school year a little bit better,” Renfro said after the presentation.

Renfro said USD 447 has great kids, but there are students in the middle school and high school who have troubles. Staff tries to help them as much as possible. The app offers another way to help.

“To me, if it helps one kid, it’s worth every penny we spent,” Renfro said.

Cherryvale Principal Scott Lambdin is hopeful, too, about the app’s possibilities.

“It’s going to be a neat little deal. We’re looking forward to it. We’re expecting to get a bunch of things right off the bat,” Lambdin said.

He said USD 447 is piloting use of the app in Cherryvale’s middle school and high school.

“And if we like it and everything we’re going to try to get it for the whole district next year to see what they can do with it,” Lambdin said, especially in the middle schools.

Ashley Bates, director of social media for STOPit, said Cherryvale is the first school in Kansas to use the app. The app is being used in more than 4,000 schools, she said.

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