When it comes to student safety, our district doesn’t want to miss a beat. Here’s how we set up a comprehensive approach to keeping staff and students safe online and offline.
School safety is about more than just doing what you can to ensure the safety of everyone on campus; it’s about being able to respond quickly and effectively to tragedy while also doing everything you can to prevent those problems from occurring in the first place.
Rewind back to 2018 and our students were grappling with an unusually high number of tragic events. Not only did Hurricane Harvey render about 65% of the homes in our community uninhabitable, but the nearby Santa Fe school shooting — where 10 people were fatally shot and 13 others wounded — took place in a neighboring town.
We were also affected by a student’s death by suicide, which is something I’d experienced twice before during my career in education. These tragic events left me wondering what could have been done to help prevent the tragedy from ever happening. It’s been 17 years and I still wonder what I missed. Had we been able to search through databases and scan hard drives at the time, maybe we could have seen a sign or caught something in advance.
6 Steps in the Right Direction
Thanks to advanced technology and a multifaceted approach to student safety, our district is making progress on the issue. We’re thwarting problems before they turn into major events, intervening as needed, and taking fast action post-event to help minimize the impacts. Here are the six steps we’ve taken to ensure a safer, more secure environment for our students and staff:
1) Focus on quick intervention. We knew we were missing some of the struggles that our kids were dealing with. Gaggle offered us the opportunity to gain visibility in those areas, and the student safety platform quickly proved itself to be invaluable. It not only met all of our district’s needs, but its 24/7/365 approach made it very appealing.
2) Shop around. We don’t have the funds to waste on solutions that don’t work for our district, so I’m pretty picky with how we spend our money. If I ask for $40,000, then the powers that be know it's important. Our student safety platform has more than paid for itself and is almost like having a personal “911” system just for our district. This not only keeps our students safe, but it’s also applicable with staff. For example, I recently received an alert on a staff member and was able to call the principal and say, “Hey, you really should go talk to this teacher.” It assists everyone.
3) Think beyond content filters. Your content filters may catch what students type in when doing internet searches, but a student safety platform is the only solution for catching what students are typing in their journals at night, or those letters that they’re writing to their friends or teachers. We had an instance where someone said, "Hey, I have the pills you want. Meet me before you get on the bus." Our student safety provider’s in-house team of trained safety professionals knew that we were about to release for the day, called the principal and said, "You've got something about to happen." That was very sad, helpful, and cool all at the same time.
4) Get school counselors involved. Our district has a strong cadre of school counselors who — along with all of the rest of their responsibilities — like to get involved with lunch duty because it gets them face-to-face with students. Even better, these interactions take place when kids are less guarded and more likely to display need.
5) Incorporate social and emotional learning. Our physical education programs include units on social and emotional learning, and our elementary school counselors do character lessons. For example, they’ll go into classrooms as part of rotation and do lessons about character and how to be good people. We also have a “No Place for Hate” campaign that focuses on anti-bullying and how to look out for people who may seem to be alone a lot or struggling to be included.
6) Set up the protocols carefully. When we first implemented our student safety solution, we made sure that we had the right people in place for notifications. We needed the kind of people on board who could respond to notifications at 2am on a Sunday night. I personally visited the candidates and we hand-picked the ones we wanted for after-hours notifications. Every campus has a counselor and a campus administrator involved, and we also have the Galveston County Sheriff's Office as our liaison. This was a critical aspect of our student safety initiative because we all understand just how important and time-sensitive the incoming information might be. We don’t want to miss anything.
Helping the Quiet Ones
Knowing that everyone leads busy lives, we also put our student safety platform in a mobile format to ensure that all campus contacts have quick access to it, and that they can reach out quickly when needed. We’ve already had five incidents where we were contacted after the fact and told that a student was hospitalized. These were all good catches, and they gave us the information we needed to be able to get their parents engaged quickly.
For the coming year, we want to continue using the tools that we have at our disposal to get some of the bigger student safety issues under control. We also plan to give our teachers, counselors, and administrators time to effectively intervene with students who aren’t as vocal about their needs. Sometimes it’s the quieter kids who are in the most pain and in the most trouble.
Dr. Melissa Williams-Scott is Executive Director of Information Systems at Dickinson Independent School District in Texas.
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