AnComm's "Talk About It," an online messaging and emergency notification service for schools, allows students to remain anonymous — unless a faculty or staff member asks AnComm for a student identification. Students understand their identities will not be revealed whimsically but will be revealed immediately when necessary.
AnComm President Carter Myers tells students, "If you threaten your life, the life of another or an entity, you will have your ID compromised." Already at the start of the current school year, a school responded to a suicide threat made using the messaging service.
Looking at the approximately 24,000 reports made by students in 150 schools last school year, AnComm revealed the identity of students about 60 times. (Today AnComm serves more than 220 elementary, middle and high schools.)
During the same time, about 20 percent of the students opted to include their names, according to AnComm.
"To me, that reinforces that children are crying out for help," Myers says.
While the messaging service can be accessed through a school's Web site or by texting, he says text messaging is more popular because it's their chief means of communication, even if the use of cell phones isn't permitted in the schools.
To use the "Talk About It" service online, students use an ID and a password, provided by AnComm, to log in. The service differs from e-mail because the messages are sent anonymously and students must select from drop-down menus a topic to describe their problem (whether it relates to security issues, personal problems or school problems) and a person with whom they want to build a dialog and make a connection with (someone who knows the school's environment: faculty, staff, school resource officer). The service is designed to automatically blind copy law enforcement when messages include words, such as bomb or weapons, that could signify a serious threat.
"It really just takes one message to understand the value," Myers says.
If students send false reports, they lose their privileges after one warning. Last school year, seven out of 150,000 students were deactivated.
Common problems reported by students last year include drugs and cutting or self injury. Using "Talk About It," schools can generate reports to show the number of messages per topic and determine where they need to reinforce prevention and education efforts. Reports can be broken down by grade level.
When students first log in, they are required to participate in a school climate survey. Students are asked to fill out the same survey at the end of the year. Faculty and staff then can see how students perceive the safety of their school.
Schools also can use the online service to send out an emergency alert to the entire school community or to send out a notice to a specific group of individuals to let them know there's a last-minute meeting.