Whether you’re an educator, administrator, or otherwise employed by a school, safety is a prime concern. When staff and students are endangered, the quality of education suffers. Parents are also impacted. Here’s what schools can do to be more secure.
1. Tighten building and campus security.
Police can identify vulnerable areas on school property and recommend upgrades. The school complex can be surrounded with fences made of welded wire or tubular steel, topped with spikes. This type of barrier is hard to cut and climb, as opposed to conventional chain link fencing. Also, avoid placing objects near fences that facilitate climbing.
Ensure that school property is well lit. Appoint guards at outside doors, and designate separate doors for entering and exiting buildings. Also, install cameras and intercoms at these locations. Assign a guard to patrol the premises.
Always have adults stationed in hallways, stairwells, bathrooms, and lunchrooms, as an authoritative presence. Keep playgrounds well-supervised, and monitor activity at bus stops.
2. Devise and practice emergency action plans.
Train school staff in using the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS). Should a national disaster occur, the NIMS directs school administrators to federal agencies and departments appointed to respond. The ICS details procedures for communicating and safeguarding school occupants, buildings, and equipment.
Your school should follow ICS directives during:
- Disease outbreaks
- Students reported missing
- Lab accidents involving hazardous materials
- The presence of criminals and hostile intruders
- Fire and weather disasters
- Incidents on campus property and at school events, such as graduations, sports games, festivals, and drills
The Department of Homeland Security recommends that local and state governments adopt two codes devised by the National Fire Protection Administration. Entitled “NFPA 1600” and “NFPA 1561,” these standards specify actions to take during emergencies. The first code describes the requisites of an action plan while the second explains how to meet them.
You can help your school administration to respond effectively to a national emergency by reviewing the NIMS, ICS, NFPA 1600, and NFPA 1561. Implementing these directives can also protect your institution from litigation.
The Crisis Prevention Institute offers a free download of lifesaving tips for emergency preparedness. Information is based on research by Safe Havens International. To practice action plans, conduct drills that mimic emergency situations. Training should involve students, teachers, custodians, and administrative staff.
Keep building blueprints available for emergency responders. During a campus emergency or disaster, they’ll need to know the school layout and location of fuses and utility equipment.
3. Use protective technology and layouts inside classrooms.
Install panic alarms at teachers’ desks that sound in the Administrative Office. Also, equip each classroom with an intercom system that connects with Administration. Another option is giving staff two-way radios.
Teachers should position their desks far from doors. Increasing distance gives teachers more time to act against an intruder. Also, use furniture near the door to form a hallway into the room. Bookcases and cabinets can serve as a wall, corralling a perpetrator.
Portable furniture can barricade a room, preventing an attacker from entering. At a school in a dangerous neighborhood, a teacher may want to keep the classroom door locked, except at the start and conclusion of periods.
In case of evacuation, teachers must know how to operate classroom windows. If they can’t be opened, teachers need tools to break windows. All building occupants should be aware of the nearest exit. Also necessary is familiarity with overall building layout.
4. Involve school counselors.
Bully Prevention Programs
Counselors can implement the PATHS curriculum, a program that reduces aggression and behavioral problems in children. Information and activities are provided for both students and parents. Schools receive evaluation kits by which they can measure success.
The PATHS curriculum calls for counselors to hold sessions two to three times weekly, for at least 20 minutes per class. Counselors receive all materials, lessons, and instructions to conduct the program. Students learn empathy expression, self-control techniques, problem-solving, peaceful conflict resolution, and ways to have positive peer relationships. The curriculum also teaches skills in listening, reading, and writing.
PATHS includes a model for preschool and kindergarten children. This curriculum teaches emotional awareness, self-control, problem-solving, and social skills. It also promotes confidence and friendships. Materials are provided for reading, writing, storytelling, science, math, drawing, singing, and thinking skills.
Counselors can hold student meetings, urging kids to band together to face off bullies. Hecklers often back down quickly when met with verbal opposition. Victims should promptly report berating behavior. Although they may fear a bully will attack harder if identified, assure victims they’ll be protected by authorities.
Counselors must emphasize that students should never counter aggressive behavior with violence. The first response should be standing beside a harassed student. Next, supporters should tell a bully to back off, and warn of being reported.
Another way to thwart abuse is asserting the admirable qualities of the targeted student. Meanwhile, bystanders must quickly bring badgering to the attention of school authorities.
When bullies are identified, they should be brought to the school advisor for counseling. Administration may also need to enforce discipline. Heckled students need the counselor’s support.
In the aftermath of a crisis, counselors should provide therapy to affected students. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps kids mentally and emotionally process their reactions. This type of therapy involves replacing negative thought patterns with a positive mindset.
Also taught are coping strategies to counteract the effects of being attacked. For example, kids may need to rebound from being labeled fat, stupid, or ugly. Then, they can recover self-esteem, confidence, and strength.
5. Foster a close-knit school community.
The best way to deter violence, drugs, and bullying is to maintain a supportive environment. In low-income communities, quality schools fill both material and emotional needs. Many institutions offer free meals, clothing, counseling, health screenings, and onsite medical care to students and families.
Teachers who show genuine concern for students tend to receive their cooperation. Kids who feel valued are more likely to succeed academically and socially than those treated poorly by school staff. Ignored students may go to great lengths to get attention.
You can promote unity at your school by offering classes that teach multicultural perspectives. Kids learn to respect and admire differences, rather than ridicule them. Also, invite parents to events that celebrate cultural diversity. Examples are concerts, fairs, craft workshops, and meals featuring international cuisine.
Teachers should identify student strengths, talents, and interests, and find ways to develop them. When educators model virtues like patience, empathy, and forgiveness, students follow suit.
The Good School Toolkit can help you create a caring school culture. Material is divided into three segments, spanning an 18-month period. School staff can choose from 60 activities designed to:
- Improve classroom management
- Effect non-violent discipline
- Develop mutual respect
- Promote learning
Among the engaging materials are cartoon booklets and posters. The Good School Toolkit is available as a free download.
To protect staff and students:
- Tighten building and campus security
- Devise and practice emergency action plans
- Use protective technology and layouts inside classrooms
- Involve school counselors
- Foster a close-knit school community
Attending school should prompt eagerness rather than fear. When students feel safe, they can focus on learning. A supportive school environment prepares kids to succeed in life. You’re a vital cog in the wheel of the education system. What a profound difference you’ll make!
Dixie Somers is a freelance writer and blogger for business, home, and family niches. Dixie lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the proud mother of three beautiful girls and wife to a wonderful husband. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
All views and opinions of guest authors are theirs alone and are not representative of the views of Petersons.com or its parent company Nelnet.