As an instructor in the education department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Westmont College and a former middle school teacher, Joe Bruzzese has used his expertise in school safety topics to create Sprigeo.com, an anonymous online bullying reporting system.
The system, he told SBF in an interview, allows students to fill out a bullying report, which is then sent directly to the administrators at the student's school in an e-mail. Bruzzese said he intuitively knew the system would work because students are more comfortable online than they are walking into the principal's office to make a report.
"When we piloted the program this past year in two different states, the very first day the system was introduced reports started coming in from kids," he said. "So it was proof positive that in the privacy of their own home, a child would sit down in front of a computer and talk about something that he or she had seen or heard about or experienced."
The idea of an online reporting system came to Bruzzese while he was lecturing as part of a parent education program at middle schools. A mother of a middle school student contacted Bruzzese with concerns because her son had been struck in the face with a full can of soda, breaking his tooth.
"When I got off that phone call, I thought, 'What am I really doing that's having a widespread effect?'" Bruzzese explained. "I knew that I was speaking at quite a number of schools, but ... [bullying] was much more prevalent nationwide, much greater than I could ever really impact as one person going from school to school."
Now, Sprigeo.com is being used by districts in California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Wisconsin, according to Bruzzese.
Most of these schools have a link to the reporting system on their school website, which will take students directly to a reporting form. Students only have to provide their school's name, city and state to file a report. That way, the Sprigeo.com database will know whom to send the report to.
Bruzzese said the system has helped to prevent violence and bullying on or near school buses. In late May, a school principal received a report from Sprigeo.com about a student who, while on a school bus, indicated he was planning to bring a knife to school to kill himself and another student. The information provided in the report allowed administrators to intervene before any violence occurred.
Schools can customize the system to meet their needs. For instance, "It could be set up ... to send reports to the transportation department, in addition to the school principal or other administrators," Bruzzese explained. "So if the superintendent says, 'We realize our transportation is an integral part of our school district, and we want our drivers to be aware there are bullying or school safety incidents happening on their buses on the way to and from school,' that would be easy to accomplish."
The Sprigeo.com service is an annual subscription and is completely web-based. District officials and individual school administrators have unique log-in and password information, which they can use to view data collected and the reports from students.
The annual subscription normally costs $1,000, but Bruzzese said that several corporate partners are subsidizing the program. A subscription for the 2011-12 school year will cost $300, which can be offset by federal funding provided by Title I and Title III.
"We have very few schools that are actually using money out of their general fund that's been given to them by the state to pay for this [program]," Bruzzese said. "So with the number of funding options, we feel like we're offering a great tool at a price point that schools can afford.
"It's really acting as a proactive way of reducing bullying incidents," he added. "Bullying is obviously an issue in the realm of transportation services that people are becoming more and more aware of, so if we can be part of that process in helping bus drivers create a safer environment to and from school, that's something that we're excited about."