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Combatting Bullying through Tech

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OneSeventeen Media is creating mobile tools that speak to students on their level.

By Chantal Rice, Headshots courtesy of OneSeventeen Media 

When Amy Looper was a child, she was mercilessly targeted by a bully twice her size. Her bully even attempted to hang Looper with a rope on the playground at school, a terrifying instance that ended only when the recess bell rang.

“I was an easy target because I had repeated first and third grade,” Looper says. “Being labeled ‘the stupid kid,’ I was bullied relentlessly by kids and some teachers for what seemed like an eternity from my kid point of view. I had loving parents who did everything they could to try to help alleviate the problems. Still, there were things happening to me as a kid that I didn’t share with my parents.”

Amy Looper

That harrowing experience led Looper to co-found OneSeventeen Media. Along with her business partner, Beth Carls, Looper launched the company to create easy-to-use tech-based tools that help schools throughout the country provide safer environments for students and teachers, and reach students on their level. With a focus on students’ social-emotional and mental health, OneSeventeen Media’s tech products rely on innovative artificial-intelligence algorithms to mentor students on an individual level. That info is then shared with school leaders to help bring about more effective crisis interventions. Essentially school counseling brought into the 21st century with the novel use of technology, OneSeventeen Media products—ThinkingApp and reThinkIt!—are mobile, interactive learning tools that tailor self-help content and live-chat mentoring for students.

“Building the world’s first and best AI-driven  mobile apps smart enough to help kids make wiser decisions and develop a healthy sense of self are the main goals that fuel mine and our team’s passion,” Looper says.

For elementary-school students, ThinkingApp provides “engaging, interactive e-book content” that ranges from teaching them how to understand their feelings and manage self-regulation to understanding manners and how to communicate respectfully. For middle-school and high-school students, reThinkIt! works as part on-demand text-message conversation with a live mentor and part self-help interactive module—all with the goal of giving teachers the ability to address the real issues students have.

Beth Carls

For kids who have only lived in a digital world, these mobile products enable them to interact with technology they’re comfortable using, which, in turn, encourages them to share more about their feelings. According to Looper and Carls, the reThinkIt! system has shown a statistically significant reduction in students’ emotional distress, with students sharing five times more information about their feelings than they share face to face with school authorities. The result: more effective interventions.

And with more effective interventions, teachers can spend more time actually teaching, an undertaking that’s become less of a given in modern times. In fact, a recent report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation noted 50 percent of teachers in the United States spend 40 percent of their classroom time dealing with discipline issues.

OneSeventeen Media products are currently used in public and charter schools throughout Central and South Texas, and Looper and Carls are in discussions with 47 school districts in the state and fielding interest from other states as well, including California, Illinois, Arizona and Wisconsin. Much recent interest appears to stem from recommendations for state school-safety initiatives to include a focus on student mental health and a red-flag early warning system that might help prevent school tragedies escalated by students’ mental-health issues.

“Two things motivate me today: the desire to create mobile tools that give digital natives a safe school virtual village for support, and [growing]our company to such financial success that we can help fund other women-led companies,” Carls says.

Carls and Looper say they expect to grow OneSeventeen Media into a multimillion-dollar company and partner with a major ed-tech company to expand its school-safety offerings. The ultimate goal is to integrate OneSeventeen Media’s products as the standard school-safety tools in every school district in the U.S.

While that may be some time off, Looper and Carls are already digging up some key research findings that are quite telling in regards to how well their products are working in schools. For instance, they say reThinkIt! helps students reduce their resistance to accept responsibility for their choices and actions, with 54 percent of student users more easily accepting responsibility. Noting one of the more powerful components of reThinkIt!, the mindfulness aspect, Looper and Carls say 23 percent of students who’ve used the product have been able to successfully cool down emotionally after using it.

“reThinkIt! has allowed our students to explore personal issues while keeping their privacy,” says Steven Zipkes, the principal of Cedars International Next Generation High School in Austin. “It has been respectful and allowed an alternative for healthy, teachable moments a student might not receive elsewhere.”

Of course, there is no better barometer to gauge the success of OneSeventeen Media’s products than students themselves.

“I stress out a lot,” says one eighth-grade female student who used reThinkIt!, “so it helps calm me down and get my words together so I can say my whole side of the story.”

For more information about OneSeventeen Media and its products, visit oneseventeenmedia.com.

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