Students nationwide are often confronted with issues and situations that they are not always equipped to handle alone.
That is why this year, Wayne County Public Schools will roll out a mobile app to allow students to anonymously report instances of bullying, violence, drugs and other potential threats. Known as SPK UP North Carolina, the program is run by the Department of Public Instruction's N.C. Center for Safer Schools, and gives students the ability to report issues at any time, with complete anonymity.
On Monday, WCPS held four training sessions to acclimate school administrators to the program. Mike Anderson, deputy director of the center, led the presentations. He detailed the features of the app, which include a dedicated suicide hotline which can lift the anonymity of the person tipping.
Anderson said that anonymity can only be lifted in situations where there is an imminent threat to a student's life. In that situation, administrators and law enforcement can obtain geo-locating information to find the person who sent in the tip, and hopefully get to the endangered person before they get hurt.
"We actually had a situation where someone said her friend was going to commit suicide," Anderson said. "She tipped a few times, then saying that nobody knew where her friend was and nobody was answering the door at her house. So we lifted the anonymity and were able to find the friend, and that story ended up having a happy ending."
Wayne County is one of six districts acting as pilots for the new program. Anderson said SPK UP was originated in the Houston and Atlanta areas, but was more heavily focused on law enforcement.
The SPK UP program came about in 2013, while the nation was still under the shadow of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
"One of the things we did was go around the state and set up stakeholder meetings, where we met with parents, teachers, administrators and students," Anderson said. "One of the things that came out of that predominantly was dealing with the students. The question of anonymous tipping came up."
Speaking with students led Anderson and the CSS to determine that a fully anonymous system was what students wanted most, and so the SPK UP app was born.
In previous tests, Anderson said, the app has done its job of being a way students can confide dangerous issues without potentially putting themselves in danger.
"I've adopted the philosophy that, if it helps one kid, it's done its job at a school," he said. "With apps like this, you don't look for the grand scheme, mass amounts of numbers, because then it's twofold. You have a lot of tips coming in, we've got an issue, we've got another problem we need to sort out. We take the successes of this app one at a time."
Kevin Smith, principal at Spring Creek Middle School, said the app will help give otherwise-cautious students a chance to speak up.
"We're excited about the possibilities of the app, because it's going to give students a voice," he said. "A lot of students are very quiet and meek, and sometimes have a difficult time reporting things to adults. We see the app as an opportunity for those students to have a voice and to take an active part in keeping their schools safe and bully-free."
The SPK UP app can translate messages between over 30 languages, which Smith said will help him communicate with the large Spanish-speaking population at his school.
A specific roll-out date for the program has not yet been set.