This is an article I wrote that first appeared in Mother's Circle back in March (Thank you Leah DeCesare). I'm posting it here today in honor of back-to-school. Go hug someone.
Let’s begin with the agreement that every teacher, parent, principal, staff member, AND child holds value in a school. From custodian to administrator, shy child to class president, every person who enters a school makes a difference in terms of how well each child learns, how happy and welcoming the environment, and how safe each person on campus lives each day.
Most of us buy into the idea that we can make a difference in terms of the quality of our child’s education. Yet too many of us throw up our hands when it comes to school security. It feels like a beast beyond our control, which leads us into quagmires while waiting for elected leaders to “fix” the problem or debates that never resolve.
Folks, we can’t wait any longer. Making our schools safer falls to every parent, teacher, student, staff member, and administrator, and we do our best and most protective work when we work together toward common objectives. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of five achievable goals every school can implement. The result will be that students are safer, and also that they will FEEL safer. I can’t imagine anything more important than that.
1. Harden the Target
Hardening the Target means designing or modifying schools to be fortresses, but with a catch. Schools must remain welcoming, happy environments, or the whole idea of creating atmospheres conducive to learning is crushed. This sounds impossible, but it has been done and it can be done in your school utilizing such principles as:
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
Shatter-resistant window film
Low-tech door stops
A system to “funnel” visitors into a waiting area until they can be identified and allowed entry
Higher-tech solutions such as surveillance cameras enabled with real-time viewing accessible by responding police officers
Alarms on every door that also create a cell phone alert when breaches occur
This is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a great place to get you started.
2. School Resource Officers (SRO) in Every School
I’d like to see an SRO in every school. Why not? Cost? Don’t talk to me about cost when it comes to the safety of our children. There’s a school nurse in or readily available to most schools in this nation, and I submit an officer assigned to schools can be just as important. An SRO comes trained and equipped to protect our children, and he or she also adds value in another way: as a positive role model of a person who has dedicated their life to the safety of others. We hear bad news about police officers all the time, but the fact is that the vast majority of officers—perhaps especially those working in schools—are doing their job to protect and serve. What parent wouldn’t want a bit more of that in their kid’s life?
3. Training for all Stakeholders
Training for parents, teachers, and kids needs to encompass two primary objectives. First, each must be trained to look for impending danger so that we can stop violence before it ever happens. Witness interviews following school shootings that have occurred over the last twenty years show a strong inclination for kids planning a shooting to share their plans before the tragic day. This means parents, students, and teachers must understand that they may hold the key to thwarting an attack. Much like our nation’s mantra regarding terrorist attacks, “If you see something, say something,” those who attend schools daily can save lives if they speak up.
The second area of training is geared toward survival strategies if and when the horrible day comes to your school. I hate that we have to teach kids about what to do if someone comes to school with a gun, but that is a better alternative than leaving our kids confused and panicked if an attack occurs. My generation used to have atomic bomb drills. Yes, it was a little scary, but so were drills to survive tornadoes and fires. We train for the worst day, hoping it will never come, but knowing such preparation will help each of us survive if it ever comes.
4. Bullying Prevention Programs
Bullying is one of the most common factors in school shootings. [Check back next week for Dave’s post on The Bullying-School Shooter Connection and What We Can Do About It.] Kids who plan to shoot people at their schools (or actually carry out their plans) are consistently shown to have been victims of bullying prior to the attack. The anger that builds within them over a period of months or years boils over in tragic, homicidal rage. It’s avoidable, and there are a number of programs proven effective in reducing bullying behavior while also empowering students to take life’s punches and keep going.
5. Parent Volunteerism
Schools with a steady stream of parent volunteers tend to be safer and more effective at educating kids. The data is clear in this regard, and any parent interested in keeping schools safer needs to strongly consider volunteering at least one day a year. I’ve previously written about my experiences with the WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program, but you may choose to be a homeroom mom or dad, help the coaching staff, volunteer as a reading tutor (check out the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring program for grandparents—amazing), or to chaperone a field trip. The point is, get involved, because those small efforts pay off in student morale, attention, educational achievement, AND safety.
There’s the nutshell list, and it’s a list that works. Someone at the next PTO/PTA meeting is going to tell you it’s too expensive, too hard, or too unrealistic for that school district. I wish I could be there when you tell them otherwise.