How One High School Took A Stand Against Anonymous Apps
This story is part of our Choices Changemakers series, where each month we spotlight teens doing amazing things in their schools and communities!
Last winter, the climate at Rutland High School took a much colder turn—and it had nothing to do with the weather outside. Instead, a suddenly popular app, called After School, enabled students to post cruel comments about their classmates consequence-free. Because the app was anonymous, no one knew who was writing what. Guidance counselor Kate Herlihy vividly remembers the stream of upset students coming in and out of her office, in addition to the amount of phone calls they received from concerned parents.
The Vermont high school's principal, Bill Olsen, compared the flood of negativity to a tidal wave. The online bullying was so bad that Olsen preferred not to repeat the comments; among them included a vicious ranking system based on students' appearance.
Instead of letting the madness continue, students took matters into their own hands and spearheaded a positivity movement. Sparked by the school's CyberYou club—a group that promotes a kind climate on campus—students spread positive Post-It notes around the building to lift people's spirits. Later in the week, those who had been hurt by the app decided to share their stories on the morning video announcements. Olsen recalls,
When the kids made the presentation on the school announcements, there were guys that were in the in-crowd, and guys that were not necessarily the most popular. They all got wide acclaim [from their peers]. It didn’t matter if you were the coolest or not, they all got a lot of appreciation for putting themselves out there.
After seeing the cyberbullying's aftermath firsthand, students launched a petition on Change.org, asking Apple to take down the hate-filled app. Garnering more than 1,300 signatures, the online document gained so much support that After School was removed from the App Store. Their hard work paid off!
"Many of us felt a sense of pride to see our student body taking charge and really caring about one another," Herlihy said of her fellow faculty members. "Everyone came together to make a positive impact over what started as a really negative issue here at school."
Even after the app was removed, the CyberYou club continues to promote a positive climate at Rutland. The organization was started a few years ago by then-senior Melanie Hubbard, who now attends Boston University. "When I was cyberbullied over Twitter, none of the administration at my high school understood how to help me or reprimand the bully," Melanie explains. "I decided to start CyberYou so that I could begin to help all the other students who felt like there was nowhere to turn."
What began as a small club has taken off—now they have nearly 40 members. Herlihy says, "It doesn’t matter how big or small your school is. Coming together as a community, you have the ability to impact the world around you, and giving kids that power is such a great thing at such a young age."
Reflecting on the entire experience, Olsen says with pride:
To have this giant corporation get rid of an app because our kids pointed out how negative it was, that's pretty amazing. We really are proud of the students. It was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in all my years in education.
For more anti-bullying Changemakers, read about Trisha, who is helping her peers rethink cyberbullying, and Konner, who used Instagram to boost his classmates' spirits. Plus, don't forget to check out this month's Choices Challenge!