Overview: The Wentzville, MO School District (WSD) is situated in a rural/suburban community 40 miles west of St. Louis. It is the fastest growing school district in the state, with over 13,000 students in 18 buildings.
Creating a safe and respectful learning environment for all students has always been a high priority at WSD. Dr. Melody Marcantonio, Asst. Superintendent - Administrative Services, is responsible for student services including safety and discipline.
For the past several years, the district has made huge gains in implementing effective measures to proactively educate students about the harmful effects of bullying and cyberbullying. In addition, district administrators were charged with offering students an anonymous way to request that certain websites not be blocked from their PC's, mandated by the passage of a new state law requiring these services to be offered to students.
Dr. Marcantonio, concerned that Missouri's anti-bullying laws were not as strong as other states, was determined to put into place proactive measures so the WSD would be more than ready to meet existing laws and put in place a comprehensive plan for anti-bullying education and response that would include:
A timely contact from a SchoolReach representative brought the CyberBully Hotline to the attention of Dr. Marcantonio, and she immediately saw it as a potential solution for both their bullying reporting needs and the content open-access law. A team was formed to evaluate the program which consisted of the district Superintendent, the Director of Technology, the Community Relations Director, and Dr. Marcantonio. After evaluating the CyberBully Hotline (CBH) thoroughly, the decision was made to implement a single hotline number so that they could evaluate and monitor the program centrally.
WSD kicked off the CBH in September with a communications plan that included a letter and email to all parents and guardians, as well as extensive coverage on the district website and newsletters. Building Principals handed out wallet cards to students, and posted the CBH awareness posters throughout their school facilities.
Results - An Early Intervention: While several minor situations were reported within days of implementation, Dr. Marcantonio also received a text from a parent new to the district concerning an incident on the bus. A prompt reply from Dr. Marcantonio started an anonymous dialogue with the parent, which eventually led to a direct dialogue. Dr. Marcantonio was able to pinpoint the bus in question and review on-bus video surveillance footage, which resulted in the offending student being properly disciplined.
Summary: The WSD is committed to the safety and well-being of their students, and the CBH has proven to be a very effective tool to respond to bullying. "If a child does not feel safe, they won't learn," said Dr. Marcantonio. "We want our students to feel safe." The CyberBully Hotline fits precisely with the goals and objectives of WSD in helping students feel safe and taking proactive measures to report incidents of bullying. "The anonymity of the program is key and will be vitally important for students and parents, who for whatever reason, don't want to come forward face-to-face initially or may not know who to contact." As students, parents, and the community become more familiar with the CyberBully Hotline, the hope is that it will also help to prevent bullying in the future.