I read a press release recently that really piqued my interest. It was about “Text-A-Tip”—a program allowing students to send anonymous texts. I decided to do some detective work, and after a great conversation with Shawn Edgington, “texpert” and author of Read Between the Lines, this is what I found:
In 2009, after two of his Pennsylvania students tragically died in a car accident, Pottsgrove High School Principal Christopher L. Shaffer decided he needed to be more accessible to his students. He contacted GuestAssist, a company originally formed to provide texting services to NFL stadium fans wanting to anonymously report inappropriate behavior to security. Shaffer’s idea was to give students the same anonymous texting option—but for the purpose of contacting school administrators with emergency needs.
And Shaffer was serious about his idea. He publicized this Text-A-Tip program to his students by hanging up banners, getting student body officers to talk about it, and passing out business cards with the number. Additionally, he sent parents fliers about it so that they, too, would have the option of reporting drinking, drugs, violence, and other concerns.
The great news is that during its first year, the program yielded 187 texts—none of which were fraudulent. In fact, one girl’s suicide attempt was prevented, because her friend sent a message to the Text-a-Tip number and the administration responded in time.
In January of 2011, Oakland Unified School District’s Chief of Police Pete Sarna implemented the same program in six of his schools. (This plan is a little different than Pottsgrove High’s plan; students text law enforcement rather than administrators.)
Sarna aims to reduce fights, minimize weapon possession, and crack down on drugs. And, like Pottsgrove’s experience, the number of reported incidents is increasing, because anonymity guarantees protection from retaliation.
I think it will be very interested to see the long-term results of these plans and also to watch whether other schools start implementing it. What do you think about it? Do you think that every school should be required to adopt an anonymous texting program? Let me know in the comments.