Bullying affects many students, with one in five U.S. students reporting having been bullied on school property in the past 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However the toxicity of bullying poisons more than the victims. Witnesses to bullying report “more feelings of depression, anxiety, hostility, and inferiority than either the bullies or victims themselves.”
Having a school safety policy that includes bullying prevention is an important first step, but it’s equally important to share the policy with stakeholders, train staff members how to respond to incidents, report and track incidents, and collect data that can be used to make improvements.
That’s a tall order. Thankfully, there’s an app for that. K12 Insight created Let’s Talk!—a two-way, cloud-based communication solution that instantly connects schools with community members 24/7 from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. It makes it easy for students, parents, and community members to ask questions, raise issues, and report incidents any time.
Barstow Memorial Principal Renee Castillo can attest to how Let’s Talk! works hand in hand with school safety policies to improve communication and school safety. The pre-K-8 school with 212 students in rural Vermont’s Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union district abides by the state’s policies and procedures to combat bullying, harassment, and hazing.
Reporting incidents is encouraged, but she explains “some students don’t feel comfortable reporting for a number of reasons.” She cites a few reasons, such as fear of being considered a snitch, retaliation, or a trusted teacher not being available. Castillo wants to break down barriers to reporting, which is why she visits classrooms to “explain what bullying is and what we can do about it” and to show students how to use Let’s Talk!, step by step.
Having the always-on listening solution and wide availability of computers and tablets at school enables kids to report concerns and specific incidents discreetly, Castillo says. Being able to report in private during recess without making it obvious to other students makes students feel a lot safer, she adds. Students can leave comments anonymously but are encouraged to provide their names so administrators can follow up and ask questions if necessary.
She says the time she spends talking to students about the technology and how to use it pays dividends. Just ask the student who recently used Let’s Talk! to thank her for her talk and tell her it helped put a stop to the bullying he had been experiencing. The student reported that his classmates now treat him better. That student may not have felt comfortable walking to Castillo’s office to share his story with her in person, but he did feel comfortable clicking a link on the web site and sharing his thoughts privately via the online tool.
Shortly after that success story, another student used the tool to report a bullying incident that “triggered an investigation that might not have otherwise been triggered,” Castillo said. “I was surprised by how quickly students will report using this tool.” The accessibility and safety of reporting via Let’s Talk! means students report incidents immediately rather than waiting until the next school day or later. That enables administrators to act fast and provide more timely interventions.
The effectiveness of Let’s Talk! as a reporting tool has motivated Castillo to expand her efforts this fall. She plans to have such talks with students in grades 4 and 5 and possibly introduce her anti-bullying message and introduction to Let’s Talk! at school orientation.
The reporting successes at Barstow Memorial aren’t lost on Superintendent Jeanné Collins. “What impressed me was how Renee made it so accessible to students,” she says. “Administrators and teachers can’t stop bullying and harassment by themselves. Making students part of the solution is important.”
Collins considers Let’s Talk! so helpful that she was the one who brought the communications tool to Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union schools in 2015 after having first used it in her previous district. “I really do believe that there is a silent majority of people,” she says. “Let’s Talk! enables us to hear all their voices.”