NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— North Salem students who witness or experience bullying have a helpful weapon in their arsenal.
With many students fearful of notifying officials about bullying and harassment openly, the North Salem Central School District is one of only a handful in Westchester that’s empowering students to report incidents of bullying anonymously and without fear of retaliation through the use of an app, Anonymous Alerts.
Gregory Bender is the Founder/President/CEO of Anonymous Alerts. He said he was bullied as a kid and it was that experience, along with the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut in 2012, that was the impetus behind the creation of the app.
“Bullying has become a national epidemic, with studies finding nearly 71 percent of students have witnessed bullying in their school,” Bender said. “It comes in a number of different forms, including physical, verbal, social and cyberbullying.”
In addition to bullying, students and parents are able to anonymously report things such as drug abuse, depression, harassment, family issues and self harm to administrators and counselors.
Those using the app are able to establish a two-way anonymous conversation with school officials. In addition to allowing them to transmit their message via text, users can also upload a photo, screenshot or video related to the incident and can also set the level of priority to normal or high. There is also a Smart Button embedded into the app to report their GPS location if they’re lost, abducted or in a dangerous situation.
“This is actually the fourth year we have been using it,” said Dr. George Bovino, the assistant principal of North Salem Middle/High School. “We average about 7-10 alerts a year, some of which come from parents, but most of them are about them observing another child being targeted.”
Bovino says the school was initially skeptical that the open channel of anonymous communication might be a tool with which students could target innocent kids and blame them for things they didn’t do. But he said that was not the case at all.
“All of the alerts we received were legitimate incidents whereby students reported instances where they were targeted, teased or otherwise treated inappropriately,” Bovino explained. “One of the best parts of the app is that students get to choose where the alert goes, either to him, to the guidance department, or other administrative officials at the middle/high school.
When asked what types of incidents were reported, Bovino said the vast majority involved students who were being bullied.
Bender says that parallels what he’s seeing nationwide. He said that was followed by reports of self-harm, something that was a surprise to him.
The school district provides a login ID and password for students and parents to login with. Both have access to the content that is specific to their school or district.
In addition to North Salem, other districts using the app include school districts in Somers, Croton Harmon and Putnam Valley as well as Newtown, Conn. It is being used in a total of 32 states nationwide and will be launching in upcoming weeks in Brewster and Bedford.
Bovino says the school budgets for the cost of the app each year.
“It’s not expensive but it’s well worth it,” he said. “It has been a very positive way for young people to respond to possible issues and a way for them when they see something to say something.”