(WBFF) -- Cell phones are generally seen as a distraction in the classroom, but in Queen Anne’s County Public Schools, they’re being used as a tool to make school safer.
Ask any educator, student or parent and they will tell you one of the biggest problems in our schools today is bullying. Throughout Maryland schools, bullying and violence are a growing problem. But not everywhere.
Centreville Middle School is part of a school system in Queen Anne’s County that’s seeing its bullying and violence numbers go down. People at the school credit “Text 2 Stop It!”
“It made sense immediately,” says Colin Gray, a student at Centreville Middle School.
“Text 2 Stop It!” is a program that allows students to text problems, in real time, to school officials – bullying, harassment, violence, guns, drugs. Gray, an eighth grader, says it works because the texts are anonymous.
“You don’t want to be the tattletale or the snitch anymore. But at the same time, it’s a real problem and you need to report it,” explains Gray.
“It’s hard being in middle school. It’s difficult. There are so many pressures that I can’t even imagine,” says Brad Engel, the Supervisor of Student Support Services at Queen Anne County’s Public Schools.
Engel helped launch “Text 2 Stop It!” in Queen Anne’s schools in 2013. It costs about $1 per student, per year.
“It’s an excellent investment,” he says.
At first, the program was seen as an anti-bullying initiative. But five years after launching, Engel says students text all day and night allowing the school and police to quickly intervene if there’s a threat.
Engel believes the program has saved lives. “That’s one of the pluses of “Text 2 Stop It!” is the immediate feedback we get as a school system,” he says.
Alvin Butler founded the program, which has someone available 24/7 to respond to student texts. Centreville gets about three texts per day.
“You got to meet the kids where they are,” says Butler. “You can't create new programs, and it takes them out of their comfort zones.”
Project Baltimore found in recent years, most Maryland schools have seen an increase in bullying reports, including those in the Baltimore area. Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties are the two state systems that use “Text 2 Stop It!” and both have seen a large decrease.
Bullying/Harassment/Intimidation Reports Per 1,000 Enrolled Students
Baltimore County184.108.40.206.08.0 42%
*Source: Maryland State Department of Education
“Giving students that tool that they can report, we feel like that has had a big impact on our numbers,” says Engel.
At Centreville, Gray says “Text 2 Stop It!” has made a difference. It’s one thing that he’s happy sets this school apart.
“The bullying gets addressed at the same time the person who is being bullied feels secure and not embarrassed about it,” says Gray.
This past legislative session, Annapolis passed a bill that Governor Larry Hogan signed, allowing all school systems to adopt “Text 2 Stop It!” But it wasn’t funded.