School districts turn to apps to help report bullying

DICKSON, Tenn. (WKRN) – Reporting bullying incidents in-person to school faculty and staff can be an uncomfortable experience for students.

But new technology is helping to make it easier and may be helping to curb an age-old problem — bullying, both seen and unseen.

“A kid had taken his mashed potatoes off his tray and smacked the kid in the face,” Day’Jah Williams, a Dickson County High School Senior.

“Talking about people’s intelligence, the way people look,” said Tucker Berry, also a senior at Dickson County H.S.

“It’s always a continuous struggle,” said Steve Sorrells, Director of Student Services for Dickson County Schools.

District staff said part of the problem is barriers to reporting.

“A lot of times, students are reluctant to report that they are being bullied,” said Melissa Fortner, Assistant Principal at Dickson County H.S. “They don’t want the people to know that they’ve reported or they don’t want to be seen in the office being a tattletale.”

The district’s answer – new technology.

Two years ago, Creek Wood High School implemented the ‘Stop It’ app, which serves as another avenue for students to report bullying – anonymously.

“It allows them to spell out the incident they’re having,” said Fortner. “They can also download pictures if they need.”

“The results of that at the end of the year were so successful for us that we wanted to try to expand that include Dickson County High School as well,” said Sorrells.

“It’s easy, it’s accessible,” said Williams.

Williams and Tucker said the app reaches out to students who may not feel as comfortable addressing faculty, staff, and the school resource officer.

“Most of the time, it’s more of a setback person or a person who doesn’t like speaking out,” said Williams.

“It’s just comforting to know that you can report anonymously through that,” said Berry.

According to the district’s data, bullying reports went down in the first year of using the app.

There were 47 reported cases (2016-17) compared to 137 (2015-16) the year before.

“I feel like having this resource prevents it before it starts,” said Fortner. “Students know they’re on top of those things. ‘If I do this, it’s going to be reported and dealt with.’ Not as apt to do those things as in the past.”

But, the following year in 2017-18, the district’s data shows reports of bullying did go up to 52.

Dickson County school officials tell News 2 fighting bullying goes beyond technology – It takes a comprehensive approach starting with relationships.

“Our emphasis has not really been on trying to find one answer for a problem, but more so district-wide. Supporting students by building proper relationships,” said Sorrells.

Sorrells said that’s expected district-wide of teachers, school resource officers, and now, with an added tool of technology.

“Just the ability to be in front of things before they happen,” said Sorrells. “We’re getting these reports that people are concerned. Before it blows up into a huge disruption or distraction, administrators are able to get into it and solve problems before they come back.”

Sorrells said ‘Stop It’ has also helped with addressing potential suicides, abuse, and so much more.

Read the full story on WKRN here.