On April 15 at the Haddonfield Middle School auditorium, students, faculty and administrators were treated to a presentation on the latest electronic means of combating bullying and preventing other potentially destructive behaviors.
STOPit! is an anonymous reporting software program available across the district, geared toward students who feel the need to express concerns of any kind to school administrators without fear of being discovered. The software is free, easy to use and can be downloaded to a smartphone or computer.
According to the company site, the app currently boasts over 2.5 million users, and with its built-in messenger service, can also accommodate real-time, two-way correspondence between students, other concerned parties and school administrators.
“We would like to think that all of our kids and parents are brave enough to come into school or into an administrator’s office and report what they see or what they hear. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Nobody wants to be a snitch or a rat,” said Sandra Hurwitz, anti-bullying coordinator for Haddonfield School District.
“In order to have best practice here in Haddonfield, we need to make it available both ways: you absolutely can walk into an office in person, or if you don’t want to get involved and you don’t want someone to know you came in and reported something – especially if it involves somebody you think is dangerous – you don’t want your name out there, then this anonymous reporting platform is an answer.”
During the two back-to-back sessions in the middle school, students were treated to several sobering reminders of how anything they post online exists outside of their control once it’s posted, no matter where it may be posted – and that it cannot be taken back even after deletion.
Since technology has grown to the point where progressively younger students are actively utilizing it on a regular basis both in school and out of school, there’s no sense in trying to tell them not to use it, said presenter Melissa Straub; rather the assembly attempted to impress responsible use and use for the greater good.
“I think a lot of this is really focusing in on balancing the good and the bad, and making sure the kids understand that the gift of technology is there, however they still need to use it responsibly. And that there are consequences that they will have to face that we didn’t face when we grew up. And so, we encourage a relationship with students, parents and even law enforcement to get involved and keep them educated,” she said.
Straub currently works as a private investigator, social justice advocate, and a licensed private detective in the state. According to a release that accompanied notice of the assembly, she is a former police detective with specialized training as a school resource officer and has more than 20 years of experience in the field of child advocacy, sex crimes, cybercrime, white collar crime, and fraud issues.
In 2016, Straub was added to the national team of Stop it Technology Solutions, which mitigates and controls inappropriate online conduct. Straub serves the company as a cyber-security expert, offering ongoing support to schools, corporations and businesses throughout the country.
“Using something like STOPit! gives the kids the power to have a voice. And to teach them about empathy, about helping each other, it’s so key. Because you’re not going to stop where technology is taking us in terms of what they’re exposed to, but you can encourage them to be there for each other,” Straub admitted.
Hurwitz concurred that the presentation had a dual purpose: to make sure kids realize they can’t become involved with someone on the internet they don’t know, post or share something that would reflect on their reputation for anyone to see.
“In the recent past, we’ve had students at the middle school level who have learned that lesson the hard way, unfortunately. We’re hoping this brings a level of awareness to all the kids.”