Warren County R-III School District covers 200 square miles in one of Missouri’s fastest-growing counties and educates over 3,000. District leaders implemented the CyberBully Hotline program at the beginning of the 2012-13 year to help prevent bullying and give students a way to report problems anonymously. They soon discovered that they could use the program for more than just bullying prevention.
About 60 students at Warren County’s Black Hawk Middle School were disciplined for fighting during the 2011-12 school year. “It was a wake-up call that we needed to do something,” said Shawn Kelsch, associate principal. Things weren’t chaotic, according to Mr. Kelsch, but a few fights were so intense that the school resource officer had to put students in handcuffs. “It was everything from horseplay taken to an extreme level, which is not uncommon in middle school, to incidents that were of a harassment or bullying nature,” Mr. Kelsch explained.
After implementing the CyberBully Hotline, things changed rapidly. “We’ve had 5 students disciplined for fighting this year,” Mr. Kelsch said in May 2013. That represents a 92% decrease in a year’s time.
A key factor in the significant reduction in fighting was the students’ willingness to text or call in reports. “In school, kids have access to their phones during passing times and at lunch, and they love using them," noted Dr. Gregg Klinginsmith, assistant superintendent. "The Black Hawk administration told kids that no one knows whether they're texting the CyberBully Hotline or texting their mom about needing their gym clothes."
Mr. Kelsch said students use the CyberBully Hotline when they observe arguments. “Kids will tell us, ‘We heard these kids arguing, and they might be ready to fight,’” he said. “I feel like this allows us to intervene before things escalate to a critical level.”
“When we first got this system, I thought it would help us with bullying,” said Mr. Kelsch. “But what I’ve found is that it helps us in many other ways, too.” Mr. Kelsch said that students were making reports about all sorts of issues, including school bus bullying, substance possession, weapons, and more.
The CyberBully Hotline program also integrates well with the district’s other character education and safety efforts. Dr. Klinginsmith says, “With the CyberBully Hotline, we’re being proactive instead of reactive in addressing problems.”