Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Nearly every night for two months, Marcos Ontiveros could hear his little sister crying through the door of her bedroom.
She insisted nothing was wrong and wanted to be left alone. Then one day, she revealed the source of the problem. A girl in her middle school class was picking on her, and no one would do anything about it.
For Ontiveros, a 2014 Southwest Career and Technical Academy graduate, the ordeal became his catalyst in developing an anti-bullying app that will be piloted at several schools in Clark County this fall. Working with his classmate, Blaze Brooks, and partners Evan Savar and TJ Sokoll, Ontiveros is hoping to transform the app, Bully Alert, from a classroom project into a marketable product.
“It did become a motive because I was experiencing that problem,” Ontiveros said of his sister’s struggle. “If you see some kid talking to the teacher and you’re the one bullying, you’re going to know that person is snitching.”
Bully Alert is designed to make it easier for students to report bullying. Rather than summoning courage to tell a teacher or administrator, students can do it from the security of their phone. All they have to do is select the type of incident (cyber, violence, copying, theft, verbal or other), fill out an incident report with the bully’s name, and click send.
The app sends the report directly to administrators and other staffers at the school, unlike the current system where incidents are filed online and sent to administrators at the Clark County School District offices before being filtered to the school.
“This is monitored by the administrators, and who knows the students better than the principals, deans and counselors at the schools?” said Savar, who is a partner and marketing director for Bully Alert.
Ontiveros came up with the idea two years ago while watching a series of bullying incidents on the news. He wanted to create an easier way for students to report bullying incidents that often go unreported. With Bully Alert, there's no need to know email addresses or phone numbers for text messages, and reports can be made confidentially from mobile devices and computers.
He tossed the idea of a anti-bully app to his buddy, Brooks, and they designed a mock-up as a classroom project. They got an A and moved on. It was only an assignment, they thought.
Then they met Savar, who had helped launch an app himself. He encouraged them to pursue the app and make it a reality.
“We kind of did it for a grade,” said Brooks, who graduated last year with Ontiveros. “Once we brought it up with Evan, he was like, ‘Man that’s genius.’... We didn’t think twice about it.”
Everything has taken off for the group in the past six months. After hundreds of changes and the occasional coffee- and Red Bull-fueled all-nighters, the team has been able to complete the app.
It is no longer just a classroom project; it has become a startup business for Ontiveros and Brooks. They drew the district's attention after being invited to give a presentation on innovation to a group of Clark County elementary school students. They mentioned the app during the session, which led to discussions and eventually the decision to pilot the product this fall. The piloting is being done in an undisclosed number of Clark County schools, where the app will be interfaced with the schools' technology systems to allow reports to be made. The app can be downloaded for free at Apple's App Store or Android's Google Play.
The team has also opened an office in Downtown Project’s tech incubator “Work In Progress” and is discussing the app with the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Nevada.
At every step of the way, the School District and Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky have supported them, helping them tailor it so it doesn’t violate any student privacy laws.
Skorkowsky said the innovation was an example of ways the district could maximize the talents of its graduates.
“These two kids have come up with this idea on their own, and it’s being piloted at small number of schools,” he said. “It’s a way students will be able to use a smartphone and be able to report (bullying) to the office so we can start getting on it right away. It’s great.”
The process has given Ontiveros and Brooks real-world experience they would never get in the classroom, from how to hold a business meeting to the legal process to what it takes to make an idea a reality.
Eventually they hope to expand to schools nationwide to help combat bullying, and perhaps even format the app platform so that employees can file human relations complaints to their companies.
For now, however, they’re focused on helping students in Clark County like Ontiveros’ sister.
“We’re not going to stop until it’s in every school in Clark County,” Savar said.