This last week I was invited to speak at the Violence Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Symposium in Corpus Christi, TX by Coastal Bend. I always love going to Texas, the people there are so warm, friendly and make me feel like family. I was really looking forward to speaking with this audience in particular because of its unique makeup. Usually at a conference, you get a gathering of individuals that all work in the same field. This group, however came from a wide array of professionals. We had first responders, medics, school administrations, business owners (i.e. movie theater owners) and so on. The team at Coastal Bend intentionally invited all these different groups together because they all had one thing in common, gatherings of large groups in their community. They understood the benefit that their community would gain by learning to be prepared for the unthinkable. I spoke alongside Dr. Tau Braun, violence prevention specialist and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools, and Robert Martin, expert in threat assessment and Safe and Sound Schools board member. I’ve presented with them previously. They always share invaluable information. Having such a variety of different groups in the audience allowed for the most amazing and diverse questions! It was an honor to speak in Corpus Christi and learn so much from all who attended. I am so proud of the work they are doing to ensure their community is prepared when tragedy strikes.
Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools
The recent series of violent events and tragedy across our country have devastated community after community, family after family. Our hearts are heavy for each of the communities, families, and victims touched by this violence. We at Safe and Sound Schools are working within our network of school safety professionals and community members to support and prepare schools for addressing these issues and fostering positive, peaceful dialogue. Together, we can prepare to welcome our students and families back to a safe and reassuring school environment.
The following statement is contributed by Safe and Sound Advisor, Dr. Melissa Reeves on behalf of the National Association of School Psychologists.
We join the nation in sorrow and outrage at the senseless acts of recurring violence. The level of anger and violence in this country is unacceptable and is a heartbreaking symptoms of serious underlying societal problems.
As parents, caregivers, and educators, we have a critical responsibility to help children and youth understand the challenges at hand within a problem-solving context and see themselves as active participants in our collective national commitment to liberty and justice for all.
It is our hope that the nation will take a lesson or two from how effective schools contribute—on a daily basis—to children’s understanding of what it means to be part of a positive community. School communities succeed in large measure because they maintain values that shape a positive learning environment. These values are expressed in the following ways.
- Adults model and teach desired behaviors. Adults can help children and youth manage their reactions to events in the news and their communities by understanding their feelings, modeling healthy coping strategies, and redirecting negative thoughts and feelings.
- What we say and how we say it matters. Adults should model civil discourse and provide opportunities to engage children and youth in conversations that focus on common goals rather than labeling groups of people for individual behavior.
- Other people’s perspectives matter. The very nature of civil disagreement is to acknowledge respectfully the views and experiences of other people and learn from differing perspectives. Adults can create safe spaces for youth to share their feelings and concerns while also exploring how they might feel and act if they were in someone else’s shoes.
- Trusting relationships are essential. Establishing positive relationships between adults and students is foundational to safe, successful learning environments. Schools can provide opportunities to strengthen positive interactions with law enforcement, such as engaging SROs as integral members of the school team.
- Safety and well-being are a shared responsibility. We each have a role in countering violence, inequity, and isolation. Being silent is not a responsible option. We have to actively counter anger and hate with acceptance and compassion everywhere.
- Contributions and effort are recognized and valued. We can and must honestly address systemic problems, but we must also acknowledge the individual citizens of all races and ethnicities, public servants and leaders, and members of law enforcement who go above and beyond to do the right thing every day.
There is no more important endeavor than helping our children and youth become positive, productive, valued citizens. We start by making their safety and well-being an unequivocal priority no matter where they learn, play, and live. Together we can work together to counter hate and violence and bring positive change and unity to our country.
Dr. Melissa Louvar Reeves is the current President-Elect of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). She is a nationally certified school psychologist, licensed professional counselor, and licensed special education teacher.
Almost three years have passed since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Since then, as a country, we’ve witnessed dozens more school shootings and continuing incidences of bullying, violence, and even natural disaster. Although the Sandy Hook Tragedy caused many schools to reassess their safety and preparedness, these continuing incidents remind us that school safety needs to remain at the forefront –for both K-12 and college campuses.
This fall, we gathered local and national school safety stakeholders with the goal of better preparing schools and students for safety and beyond. We held a panel discussion at Boston University –“From Tragedy to a Safer Tomorrow.” Panelists included our Executive Director and Co-founder, Michele Gay, mother of Josephine, Scott Pare of Boston University Police Department, Virginia Tech survivor Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers and Andre Ravenelle, Superintendent of Fitchburg Public Schools and President of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Click here to view the event video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttk_lNUH2V8&feature=youtu.be
Thanks to an engaged audience, asking questions at the mic and on Twitter using the hashtag #ASaferTomorrow, the discussion covered a range of topics. One of the topics of interests for many students in attendance was social media. We examined both the dangers and values of social media in in the school community. In times of crisis, social media has the advantage of getting information out instantaneously, but it can also be a cause for concern, as miscommunication and sensationalism can quickly lead to confusion, panic, and inaccurate information.
Scott Pare and his team at Boston University Police Department have had great success using social media to monitor potential violent threats. “We have software [to help us] monitor that information and stay current,” said Scott. While prevention is a huge component of school safety, the panel reminded our audience that having a plan in place to help staff address and respond to potential threats is essential. Likewise, it is critical to ensure that parents and community members receive accurate and timely information when a crisis occurs.
Mo Canady discussed the importance of School Resource Officers (SROs) and how they are becoming more common and valued in K-12 schools, particularly elementary schools. SROs are trained to build relationships with students and are more likely to control and calm a crisis situation. “The issue of deterrence cannot be overlooked,” said Mo. “There have been very, very few school shootings that have happened when an SRO is present.”
The issue of mental health and combating stigma attached with psychological counseling was also brought up during the discussion thanks to a question from an audience member. The panel of experts stressed that the need for mental health professionals at schools is just as important as increasing the presence and participation of SROs and other first responders.
With the evening coming to an end, our panel closed the discussion reminding all that as community members, each of us has a responsibility to ask difficult questions, keep the conversation alive, get involved, and realize that we all play a role toward a safer tomorrow.
Photo from Campus Safety Magazine reporter, Zach Winn