BELLOWS FALLS -- Certain schools throughout the country are bringing the fight against bullying into the 21 century.
By collaborating with Blackboard Connect's TIPTxt service, schools can develop the capability to accept text messages as a way of providing students and parents with another way to easily report harassment and share their concerns. Bellows Falls Middle School took this leap last month.
BFMS Principal Heidi Lucas-Moccia told the Reformer she is in charge of "manning the boards" at the school.
"We are very excited to roll out this new TIPTxt program," she said in a statement in January. "BFMS works very hard to educate students around the issues of bullying while trying to take a proactive approach. We are hoping students will take advantage of the program and are in hopes that our efforts pay off."
Lucas-Moccia, in her third year as BFMS principal, said the more tech-savvy students of today can easily adapt to this digital service.
"Communication amongst adolescents is constantly evolving -- many of them feel more comfortable using their digital devices instead of having a face-to-face conversation; with this TIPTxt program, we hope that students who are concerned about approaching a school administrator with a report, can instead use their phones to inform us about an incident," she said. "By integrating technology into our schoolwide continuum of behavior, we are expanding our outreach and efficacy."
But BFMS administrators will not rely solely on the texting service to deal with bullying -- it will merely provide one more avenue for children who worry about approaching an adult with their concerns. TIPTxt will add to the school's bullying prevention programs, which include bully reporting boxes, school counselors dedicated to working with the student population on bullying prevention and a student-led group called "No Bystanders," which creates different activities that help students stand up to bullies.
Lucas-Moccia told the Reformer the idea to administer TIPTxt began to materialize a few months ago when Jamie Dansereau, the school's behavior interventionist and athletic director, found the program online. She said it costs roughly $150 a year and should be well worth it.
Steve Perrin, the principal at Brattleboro Union High School, said he and his fellow administrators have looked into TIPTxt and various similar programs but decided not to participate. He said some of the services are anonymous, while others are not, and students at BUHS typically feel comfortable turning to their teachers or guidance counselors whenever there is a problem.
"I'm not talking down the texting systems, but you can't replace the real-life experience of talking to someone and you can't replace the assurance students get first-hand," he said, adding that it is not uncommon for a friend or a classmate of a bullied student to come forward and report it.
Perrin said BUHS has tracked bullying for several years and has seen a general decline, though there are occasional spikes. He said morphing a school's overall environment and climate into a more accepting and transparent one helps to reduce the level of bullying. He said the school's administrators, teachers, nurses and guidance counselors are all qualified to deal with complaints from students.
"They know their professional expectation is to report to us," he said.
Perrin told the Reformer he is still open to the possibility of starting a texting service and "wouldn't discount anything."
Dr. David Crisafulli, superintendent of the Hinsdale, N.H., School District, said School Administrative Unit 92 has no digital way to report bullying, but feels the town's schools are small enough for faculty members to recognize when a student is being bullied or harassed.
"We don't let anything slide. We respond in a variety of ways and we've been pretty successful," he said. "The kids know what our policies are and what our practices are regarding bullying."
Crisafulli said a listening ear is provided by the school resource officer, whose duties are being handled by former Hinsdale Police Chief Wayne Gallagher. Current Chief Todd Faulkner has told the Reformer an SRO serves multiple roles, including providing protection to students and staff and acting as a confidant to members of the student body. He has said the SRO officer would be armed and would patrol both the middle/high school and the elementary school, though focus would be given to the middle/high school.
Crisafulli said Gallagher is great at carrying out the SRO duties, even going to students' house to talk to their parents or caretakers if there is a problem with bullying. Crisafulli said children and parents are generally very good at coming to administrators or teachers with their problems.
"(Bullying) won't be tolerated," he said.
Article 6 of HInsdale's town warrant this year pertains to grant funding for an SRO. Adoption of the article would ratify the selectmen's decision and authorize the acceptance of a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant that would provide 60 percent of the cost to hire an SRO for 36 months with federal funding up to $125,000 during 2014, 2015 and 2016. The grant would come on the condition that the town fund the position the remaining 40 percent of the three years, as well as 2017, and have no reduction in the police force during the years of the grant. Gallagher said he will be replaced by Officer Wayne Kassotis if the article is adopted.