GREENWICH, Conn. – Dr. Lorraine Termini is the Dean of Student Life at Greenwich High School in Connecticut. Six years ago, she says the high school was one of the first in the area to start using a safety reporting system called Anonymous Alerts .
“I can honestly say we’ve saved lives,” Dr. Lorraine Termini said.
It’s a mobile app that empowers students, parents and community members to anonymously submit alerts about suspicious activity. The school learned about it at a school-safety conference and decided to launch the system after the district’s phone tip line never took off. Dr. Termini says they realized students are much more likely to send an anonymous text.
“This is how kids communicate,” said Dr. Termini. “Everything’s online. That’s their world.”
She’s confident it’s been effective.
“A few years one of the anonymous alerts came in and they gave me the option of responding back which I did. The anonymous alert stated something like ‘my friend wants to kill himself’ and I kept going back and forth I was able to communicate, and after about three or four times, the person said ‘it’s me, I’m writing about myself’ and gave me the name. We sent the police and the student was hospitalized,” Dr. Termini said.
Depression and suicide concerns are some of the most common types of reports, but the system can be used for all types of problems at the 8,000 schools using it nationwide.
“Bullying, drugs, weapons on campus, safety issues, and last year we thwarted three school shootings with kids coming forward,” said Gregory Bender, Founder and CEO of Anonymous Alerts.
Bender says school shootings are what spurred the idea for the app.
“I saw after Columbine, after the shootings down at Virginia Tech, that people knew about things ahead of time before a tragedy could occur,” Bender said.
The goal is to be proactive before a tragedy happens. Another school shooting, Sandy Hook, happened not too far from Norwalk Public Schools.
“The district takes security very seriously,” said Chief of School Operations Dr. Frank Costanzo.
Joe Rios and Dr. Frank Costanzo lead the security team at the district. Now the Director of School Preparedness, Rios was actually a first responder at Sandy Hook.
“Our main priority is to provide a high-quality education for all our students across the district,” Rios said.
He says that can only happen if students feel safe.
“There have been a number of incidents that have come into us through Anonymous Alerts that otherwise we’re not necessarily confident that that information would have come into us,” Dr. Constanzo said.
They say the key element of the app is that students can remain anonymous and stand up for each other.
“There are students who are able to self-advocate for themselves, and then there are others who are not quite there yet,” Dr. Constanzo said.
In today’s society, when so many kids are struggling with mental health, Dr. Termini says it’s important they can meet the kids where they are and she hopes every school will implement an anonymous reporting system.
“We need a platform for kids to feel comfortable reporting so we can get them the help that they need,” Dr. Termini said.