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Published on September 2nd, 2014 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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BBC journalists visit District Five school for segment on anonymous reporting system

Pictured above left to right: BBC photojournalist Alan Maloney, Irmo High School students Alexa Vega and Dexter Weathers, and BBC reporter Johnathan Blake.

COLUMBIA – Irmo High School’s new app for reporting problems anonymously is getting international attention.

Two reporters with the British Broadcasting Corporation visited the school on August 28 for filming and interviews on the school’s Anonymous Alerts® system. The news segment is slated to air internationally September 6 on the BBC. A radio version of the story will air the week after the television broadcast debut.

“Apps like Yik Yak, Whisper and Secret were getting a little more popular in the U.K. So, I was looking for an angle on anonymous messaging apps and how they were used…I happened across the Anonymous Alerts app that was being used here and thought, ‘well, that’s sort of an interesting angle,’” said Jonathan Blake, a London-based technology reporter for the BBC. “…While there has been some criticism over anonymous messaging apps, this school is embracing technology with an app of its own.”

Used by schools and districts nationwide to help thwart incidents, the Anonymous Alerts app is downloaded on all Irmo High students’ district-issued iPad minis. The implementation at the Lexington-Richland District Five school comes amid worldwide support for such reporting systems. Last year, state lawmakers considered a bill that would require school districts to develop an online tool for anonymously reporting acts of bullying, harassment and other issues. Irmo High was one of the first schools in the state to utilize the online anonymous reporting system.

Irmo High School Principal David Riegel said, “As administrators, we can’t be everywhere …at every lunch table conversation or hallway interaction.  And students have a knack for hiding things that they don’t want us to know about. This app allows students to be extra eyes and ears and let us know when there are potential problems on campus. It’s all about keeping our students, staff and school safe.”

Piloted last year, Anonymous Alerts was recommended by teachers, law enforcement officials and the school’s student-led Conflict Avoidance Group then vetted through administrative staff.  Messages can be submitted anonymously to a school administrator, school resource officer, guidance counselor or other key school officials. Students can also upload or attach a photo directly from their smartphones, iPad and other devices to accompany the message. All reports remain anonymous, although senders do have the option to include their names during the submission process for a person-to-person discussion. Irmo High School staff and students say the app is timely and has been well-received.

“I think it’s an awesome app for our school and for our students,” Irmo High School senior Dexter Weathers said during an interview with the BBC. “The fact that it’s anonymous helps because students feel like they don’t have to tell who they are, but they get to let the principal or other administrators know what’s going on … they know the problem will be fixed.”

Blake and his colleague Alan Maloney also spoke to student journalists with the school’s newsmagazine, The Stinger, during their visit, offering advice on story generation and pursuing journalism careers.

“Whatever you do be passionate about it,” said Maloney, a photojournalist for the BBC. “If you don’t care about what you do, that will come across to your audience…people can see that. So, if you know that you love something, go do that.”

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