BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — As usual, Shenendehowa is ahead of the curve. About a year ago it launched R U OK, a text message hot line to serve as a guidepost and an outlet for students.
“It’s a service available to kids throughout the school day and into the evening, each and every day we are in operation,” Craig Chandler, an assistant high school principal, said. “Kids can text in any type of concern they have. Initially the idea was to give kids a voice in regard to bullying so that if they didn’t feel comfortable interjecting themselves in a situation, for fear of becoming the next target, they at least have an opportunity to do something as opposed to doing nothing.”
This hot line will help the staff and administrators as well as the students. “Every high school has bullying issues and we know through research that the incidents are underreported,” Chandler said. “Really the development of the hot line was hopefully to increase the reporting of incidents so that we would be better informed and better able to address those concerns.”
The thought is that kids are more likely to send an anonymous text message — it’s a form of communication that they are comfortable with, that they constantly use during their daily lives. Personally walking into the office and speaking with an adult directly? Not so much.
ON THE RECEIVING END
“It’s always going to be an anonymous trained operator. We keep it anonymous so that kids are more likely to use it. We have a number of people who are trained facilitators of the program,” Chandler said.
When a student sends a text to the hot line, the response is instantaneous. They will get immediate feedback within 5 seconds with a reply saying, “Someone will be with you shortly.”
“An operator will most likely try to offer some first line of intervention support and give the student — regardless of the situation — some immediate strategies for the student to employ to aid them in the situation,” Chandler said.
“But the long-term goal of the communication is to build the trust so that someone is willing to have a face-to-face conversation with the person who is able to provide them with the most help and support.”
Sometimes we all just need a shoulder to lean on.
“Kids are walking around with a lot of really complex issues that they are not equipped to handle on their own; if the hot line can provide the necessary support for one student, it’s worthwhile,” Chandler said.“I feel that we did have a decent number of substantiated reports that did lead to successful intervention to help students.”
They are still pushing to promote awareness so that more students will utilize the hot line. “I think that there is some more that we could do in bringing awareness to the hot line and what type of support it can specifically provide to kids,” Chandler said. “It is being utilized but — like anything — we’d like to see it grow.”
One route of expansion will be to increase functionality.
“We are hoping to add a web chat feature to the service so that the kids would be able to access it from a computer as well as a phone and that would work like customer service chat.”
Covering a lot of ground
Students text about a wide variety of issues that they are facing.
“The reports that we get . . . they field a number of academic concerns, especially those concerned about grades slipping or difficulty in preparation in advanced coursework, domestic type issues and concerns about things happening within the home, relationship troubles, substance abuse messages and depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts as well,” Chandler said.“We really want it to be a resource, regardless of the concern, we want kids to reach out and know that there is somebody on the other end who can understand where they are coming from and can point them in the right direction.”
Most of the time the major question posed to operators is: What should I do? “Kids already know what they should do,” Chandler said. “They just need that affirmation from someone else that yes, you do need to go tell your parents, or yes, you do need to go to the counseling center.”