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Anti-bullying initiative being tested at Rio Mesa

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A new anti-bullying website is being tested at Rio Mesa and Hueneme high schools.

The website, Sprigeo, offers students an opportunity to anonymously report bullying on their campus.

Martha Ito-Jimenez, a Spanish teacher at Rio Mesa High, said the site has helped students stand up to bullying.

“Bystanders are a part of the bullying process,” said Ito- Jimenez, who has been teaching at Rio Mesa for 22 years. “It’s been a good experience to give all of these students an outlet.”

Ito-Jimenez said she was motivated to look into the site when she returned to Rio Mesa this year after a sabbatical. During her time off she did research on the prevalence of bullying in schools and learned about Sprigeo from a friend.

The Moorpark resident suggested Rio Mesa act as a pilot school on the site for Oxnard Union High School District as a way to address the problem, which is an issue on school campuses across the state. She said the school receives an emailed notification from the site whenever an incident is reported.

Ito-Jimenez said Rio Mesa has made significant efforts to curtail bullying in recent months, including putting posters up around campus and talking to students about the importance of treating each other fairly. She said despite the bullying awareness campaign there have been only a few reports of bullying.

“I’m surprised I haven’t gotten more reports,” Ito-Jimenez said. “I was expecting a lot more at the beginning.”

Ito-Jimenez said the school receives two or three reports a week—none of which have been deemed violent.

Joe Bruzzese started Sprigeo about 18 months ago. A former teacher in several school districts in Southern California, Bruzzese said bullying was becoming a larger problem and he wanted to do something about it, which is what led him to create the website.

“We’ve raised the level of accountability for the students,” said Bruzzese, a graduate of UC Santa Barbara. “It’s really helping to change the culture of the way students treat each other.”

Bruzzese said the name “Sprigeo” stems from two main ideas. He chose “sprig” to show that the site was one branch on a larger tree in the fight against bullying in schools.

Bruzzese said the second part of the name comes from the combining form “geo,” to identify bullying as a world issue, not just a school issue.

“There’s a clear trend in place with bullying,” Bruzzese said. “But there’s very little actually being done to effect change.”

Bruzzese said more than 500 schools in 21 states around the country have signed up for the Sprigeo service.

A year’s subscription to the site costs $295 per school. Bruzzese said the Oxnard Unified district would receive a lower rate if it were to equip all schools with the service.

So far, Rio Mesa and Hueneme have chosen to pay for the service out of their own funds.

Oscar Hernandez, principal at Hueneme, said the cost is insignificant compared to the benefit the service brings.

“Parents and kids feel more at ease,’’ said Hernandez, who has been principal at the school for three years.

A former Hueneme High School student, Hernandez said modern technology has made bullying more difficult to tackle than when he was a student. The principal said bullying online through photos, videos and email has become more common in schools, and Sprigeo is another tool to help.

“As long as I am at Hueneme High School, we will have Sprigeo,” Hernandez said. “Now kids have one more voice and choice to let us know what is happening.”

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