Students at Norwich Free Academy will now have the ability to reach out for help at their fingertips.
The high school is rolling out ‘Stop It’ this week, an anonymous reporting app for all students.
“It is very easy to use and with just one click, students can get the help they need,” said Karen Lau, a senior at NFA.
The app allows students to report any kind of incident including bullying, threats of violence and mental health crises. The students can choose to send in information anonymously or with their names attached.
“Get the help you need and never have to worry about being shamed or humiliated or scared for it,” said Garrett Testut, a senior at NFA.
The reports then go to administrators on campus, including the director of campus safety.
“They are tied to their phones and this works on their phones as a text messaging app, an easy way for them to send us important information,” said Wayne Sheehan, director of campus safety at NFA. “I receive that report in real-time. And if we don’t have enough information we can text the student directly asking for information that we would need to be able to act on what they are trying to tell us.”
The idea for the app came about one year ago when Sheehan started in his role at NFA. He held a meeting with the student advisory board on campus and immediately formed a student safety committee.
“There seemed to be a lot of personal conflict. Verbal and physical confrontations,” said Sheehan. “They had some legitimate concerns about personal safety that we wanted to explore and figure out how we could enhance how they felt about being safe on campus.”
Sheehan took the job at Norwich Free Academy about one year after the school dealt with a police investigation involving a former employee. The investigation surrounded allegations of inappropriate relationships with two students and failure to report by another employee. Both no longer work at NFA.
“Obviously there’s a lot of things that have happened,” said Sheehan. “The best way to have a situation feel like you have some control is to have ownership over it and I definitely felt like in that first meeting with the student advisory board that those students, they felt like their voice wasn’t being heard.”
Working alongside the student safety committee, NFA decided to contract with the private company that runs the Stop It app. Students are able to reach out with reports 24/7. If a report rises to the level of an emergency after-school hours, Stop It has a call center that can contact the appropriate parties, Sheehan said. The app also connects students with emergency help numbers if they need them.
“It allows for powerful, two-way communication between students and campus safety officers,” said Lau, who is a member of the safety committee.
Students say that it is important that they helped to lead the charge.
“Students leading the charge shows that it is a tool that we want to use, that we want students to use and that the administration agrees with,” said Garrett Testut, who also serves on the student safety committee. “Having students lead it just reminds our fellow students that this is a good app. This is worth getting.”
The app was supposed to be rolled out last March, but the pandemic got in the way. The students say while they were disappointed at first, the app is now being launched at an important time.
“Especially now that we are in a virtual learning environment and we can’t always see people face to face, we have confidence that this app will be an outlet to help people,” said Lau.
At least one other high school in Connecticut uses the Stop It app. NFA will contract with the app company on an annual basis.