Apps could help ease violence in schools

By Lilly Mashayek

Project Student Opportunities for After-School Resources (SOAR) will be looking at ways to improve schools’ learning environments in the coming years due to a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Justice to IRIS Educational Media, an Oregon-based behavioral research and development firm.SO

“The project is focused on the development and testing of a comprehensive school safety framework,” said Claudia Vincent, research associate at IRIS Educational Media.

The app, available to students, teachers and parents, will have several features including resources for the school community on restorative problem solving, a school climate survey, and a place to report issues that arise within the schools, Vincent said.

“It would be an application where they don’t necessarily have to go to the school office,” said Dorothy Espelage, co-principal investigator of the project and professor in education psychology. “We do see that youth in high school have agency, and they do see what’s going on.”

While the app is primarily focused on high school students, Brion Marquez, research associate at IRIS Educational Media, said that having a safe way for college students to voice their concerns is important as well.

“Look at what’s going on in [Mizzou], people don’t feel safe,” Marquez said. “There’s no form for them to express this lack of safety, so this could be adapted to colleges.”

Vincent said that threats and bullying within schools was one of the reasons that the application has a feature for students to report any issues that they see around the school.

“Bullying is one of the primary areas of concern for many students,” Vincent said. “It’s a very sensitive issue and one that’s of great concern.”

Espelage said that the application may include a tip line that could allow kids to anonymously report issues, such as bullying, in their school. However, students are encouraged to not report anonymously.

“It would be confidential, but students are encouraged to participate in the problem solving process,” Marquez said. “Bullying is a relational behavior, so it makes sense to resolve it through relational processes.”

Project SOAR advocates for restorative problem solving techniques, meaning students who misbehave are not simply punished but are asked to participate in problem solving techniques as opposed to punitive techniques such as expulsion or suspension.SO Vincent said that this allows for the school community to receive better support to solve the issues.

“The app will produce a bunch of data, and this data can be used by school staff to interpret what is going on in the school,” Vincent said. “Based on the data patterns they can engage in problem solving.”

The five-year project will start on January 1, 2016 and will focus on high school students in a school district in Oregon and another school district in central Illinois.

“[Project SOAR is] committed to staying in central Illinois,” said Espelage. “We will do some real in-depth focus work first couple of years.”

The project will largely be a collaboration amongst everyone in the school community.

“We’re going to establish strong relationships with students, parents and teachers that are sustainable,” Espelage said. “The end product will have everybody’s hands on that product.”

As far as why the project is focusing primarily on high school students, Espelage said that there is a need in the high schools.

“Less programming is available for high schools, and the programming is not working,” she said. “Every student wants to go into a safe school.”

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