Can texting tips help a Vt. school tackle bullying?
BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. -
The hallways at Bellows Falls Middle School seem pretty easy to navigate-- unless you are trying to hide from a bully.
"It was everywhere and kids did not feel safe coming to school at all," said Heidi Lucas-Moccia, the school principal.
Several smaller schools feed in to the middle school and school officials say the combination of a new element and more freedom can be a breeding ground for bullies. Eighth-grader Kylie Comstock remembers it all too well.
"The way they dressed or the way they look and also who they hung out with," Comstock said.
Lucas-Moccia took over as principal three years ago and getting a handle on this issue has been her main priority. One of the ways the school is trying to curb the problem is a new texting tip line. It lets kids send an anonymous alert to the principal about something that happened to them or something they saw via text message. And she can text back to that cell number to follow up.
"Kids just don't want to report. They don't want to be seen as the one that told. So, I'm hoping this will help," Lucas-Moccia said.
"They might not want to expose themselves because they might think they're going to be bullied for saying something," Comstock explained.
Comstock and a group of her fellow classmates have started the No Bystanders Crew at their school. Their mission is to make speaking out against bullies the cool thing to do. She's hopeful the texting tip line will work, but admits the fact that they can't have their phones at school may mean kids forget to report.
"I think it's going to take a while to get used to," Comstock said.
The internet is playing a bigger role in kids' lives every day, so just because the bullying isn't happening in the school doesn't mean it isn't playing out here.
Lucas-Moccia says she's been working with parents and kids to remind them exactly what bullying is so the tip line is not overused.
"Just because you were called a name one time does not mean that you were being bullied; it needs to happen repeatedly," Lucas-Moccia explained.
So far she hasn't received any bullying reports from the text tip line, but she knows it's still happening every day.
"It's done a lot of damage to kids and their self-esteem, so we're really trying to stop it," she said. "I'm not sure we'll ever stop it, but we are trying to curb some of it."
The principal says the messages will remain anonymous unless a student is in real danger, then she says she will turn the information over to police.