STOPit takes on bullying

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A new smartphone application is sweeping across Hardeman County with the goal of stopping bullying.

Hardeman County Schools held a series of rallies to inform students and parents about the STOPit app, which allows students to anonymously report bullying, uploading screenshots and photos.

“Most kids when they witness bullying or get bullied, they don’t want to talk personally to an adult or teacher about it because they feel they’re going to say something to them or they’re going to be a snitch … and it’s going to make the problem worse,” said Mia Langley, a 14-year-old student at Middleton High School. “I think being able to do it anonymously and through the phone, they feel safer and it’s a lot more effective.”

Rallies were held at the high school and middle school levels. High school students heard from Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old student who committed suicide after being bullied.

Students also heard from Det. Sgt. Tom Rich, a cyber-safety expert from STOPit who works with the Summit Police Department in New Jersey, and Todd Schobel, STOPit’s founder.

Hunter Clutter, 15, said hearing from Carol Todd was compelling.

“If Amanda’s mom wasn’t actually there, we wouldn’t have been able to connect it how we actually did,” Clutter said. “That put it in our minds that bullying is actually a problem and actually a real thing.”

Jeff Barnes, principal of Bolivar Central High School, said he and other administrators can view the anonymous reports in an online document. They can then contact the appropriate people to make sure the bullying is addressed, he said.

Most of the reports he has seen so far have dealt with cyberbullying, Barnes said.

Mary Ann Polk, principal of Bolivar Middle School, said her students have not downloaded the app yet since it is in a testing phase in the county for this school year.

“It’s always great to have options, and so we’re hoping that parents will see this as a way that they can have direct involvement as well,” Polk said. “Just having that other tool in their toolbox to report, we find that is a plus for our county.”

On average, the app has reduced bullying in a single school by as much as 50 percent in the first year, according to CEO and Founder Todd Schobel. One school is using the app for a third year and has seen 70 percent fewer incidents of all kinds ranging from bullying to fighting, he said.

“People are thinking twice before they’re posting, they’re thinking twice before they abuse someone or hurt someone,” Schobel said.

Administrators can also ask followup questions through the app, so students remain anonymous but can give more details about their report.

“They get this information, they can see it and they can get to a child immediately before things spiral out of control,” Schobel said. “It’s just simple, fast and powerful.”

Olivia Stanford, 14, said her fellow students at Bolivar Middle School are talking about how the app could impact the school and stop bullying.

She also pointed to another feature, where students who are suicidal or in distress can contact someone for support.

“If you just need somebody to talk to you can just text an administrator and get someone to talk to,” Stanford said.

Darlene Cardwell, principal at Middleton High School, said many students gave Carol Todd hugs after the rally, including some who were personally affected by cyberbullying.

The application will allow administrators to get help for students. Parents can also use the application to report bullying, she said.

“We can’t fix the problem until we know about it, so this maybe will alert us quicker so we can handle the situation before it gets to the point where the child is under much distress,” Cardwell said.

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