In response to new Safe Schools legislation, The Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario has recently released an anti-bullying and community outreach app for its students.
Calling it Empower, the mobile application gives students and parents an avenue to quickly, conveniently and anonymously report incidents of bullying and victimization in schools.
“The CDSBEO realized the potential for an app to not only meet some of our Safe Schools responsibilities, but to also serve as a vehicle to help support our students and their families in areas such as mental wellness and family engagement,” explains CDSBEO Superintendent Tom Jordan. “The fact that young people today feel comfortable communicating using technology was a starting point for us to provide this app.”
Research has indicated that this form of communication has empowered students and parents by greatly increasing the number of incidents reported, compared to all other reporting vehicles in place. The app is free for users, and can be accessed through various means including a cell phone that is capable of texting, by calling a toll-free number, or through a web chat. The service links to a live, trained operator who will respond to concerns during business hours, with an automated system setup for after hours.
Once the concern is submitted, a report is generated (within 2 minutes) and forwarded via email to the school administrator(s) for investigation and follow-up. If an operator senses a need for immediate response, a phone call will accompany any emails.
The CDSBEO launched the app in part because they understand the correlation between student voice and student engagement is well documented and important in the school community.
“Listening to what the students are telling us about school climate promotes ownership, which leads to healthier and stronger schools,” says Mr. Jordan. “When we encourage this student voice, it teaches and encourages students to be advocates for themselves and for their peers; it contributes to supportive school communities, where all people feel that they are listened to, and it helps the students to understand that they do not have to accept injustice and intolerance. Students come to an understanding that they have options and that they can do something about it.”
The app will be much more than an anti-bullying tool; it will also be developed as a tool for community outreach, which will communicate information on Board news, student transportation information, and school news and announcements.
Since launching the app in January, 2014, the response has been nothing but positive from students, parents and staff.
“Students have told us that the fact that the reporting of incidents is anonymous is really important to them, and that they are more likely to use this method of reporting rather than some of the more traditional reporting methods. We have received some feedback from parents who are appreciative that the CDSBEO is using the all-important social media/technology part of a child’s world in a very positive way,” says Mr. Jordan.
On top of the school community’s feedback, other school boards have since approached the CDSBEO, inquiring about their journey with the development and launch of the Empower App “We continue to be excited about the potential it has in our integrated approach and we are more than happy to share what we have learned.”