Creating Safer Schools: Background, and Working with Students & Parents
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While most schools have existing safety programs, these programs often need conscientious, creative application to improve their effectiveness. Following is a list of ideas and activities that will work to create safer schools. Some of these suggestions may already be part of district or school site programs. Many of these ideas may be initiated and carried out by school-site principals or parents' groups working with local school administrators or by school district public relations director, working cooperatively with school superintendents and other district administrators.
Perhaps the most important strategy is to place school safety on the educational agenda. This includes developing a safe schools plan -- an ongoing process that encompasses the development of district-wide crime prevention policies, in-service training, crisis perparation, interagency cooperation and student/parent participation. An appointed task force should develop and implement the plan with representatives from all elements of the school community - board members, employees, students, parents, law enforcers, government and business leaders, the media and local residents.
The following ideas address school safety*. They work toward achieving quality education and safer schools. Through such activities, schools can improve campus climate and discipline, as well as enlist participation from various groups to create partnerships in this important effort. Educators who take active roles and initiate positive programs -- rather than just react when negative conditions arise -- help create successful schools.
Working with Students
Students are both causes and victims of much of the crime and misbehavior on campuses. Most of the following ideas and activities require initiation by administrators and teachers. Once students experience the positive results of the activities, however, they likely will assume the responsibility for maintaining such activities.
- Initiate programs to promote student responsibility for safer schools. Create a "student leader" group consisting of leaders from all formal and informal campus groups. Assist this representative group in modeling and encouraging school safety activities among their peers. Student government representatives can also form a student safety committee to identify safety problems and solutions.
- Encourage student input in district policy. Appoint one or more student representatives to the school board. These students would participate in discussions and planning but not be voting members.
- Create and publicize safety incentive programs that share a percentage of the district's savings with schools if vandalism is reduced. Such programs encourage students to take responsibility for vandalism prevention. Often students are allowed to help decide what projects to help fund.
- Coordinate student courts. Student judges, lawyers, jurors, bailiffs and court clerks, trained by local justice system experts, hear and try cases involving fellow students. Student courts make real judgments and pass real sentences.
- Purchase conflict resolution curricular materials that will provide staff and student training in solving problems and conflicts. Enlist student mediators to calm tensions among classmates and to provide a positive influence on school climate.
- Establish local branches of student safety groups, such as SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk), and Arrive Alive, which sponsr alcohol-free social activities. Consider promoting student and parent groups that provide rides home to teenagers who have been drinking.
- Develop a "buddy system." Assign current students to newcomers to facilitate easy transitions. Assign older, bigger students to look out for students who seem to be bullied by others.
- Plan a community beautification campaign for the school and neighborhood using students as a work crew. Graffiti and vandalized areas should be priorities. With professional guidance, students can help maintain campuses, parks and other community areas. Beautification projects enhance the appearance of the community and develop a strong sense of pride among participants.
- Consider establishing a student tip line which provides an anonymous, non-threatening way for young people to report school crime.
Working with Parents
In Discipline: A Parent's Guide, the National PTA identifies parents' main responsibility: Set a good example. Children learn more by parents' actions than from parents' words. Parental pride and involvement in the school sets a positive example for children.
- Make time for any parent who wants to meet. Treat visiting parents as colleagues in the business of educating children. Always listen before talking -- parents often just need to be heard. Try to conclude sessions with a commitment of support from parents.
- Develop a parent-on-campus policy that makes it convenient and comfortable for parents to visit the school. Get the program off the ground by inviting an initial group of parent participants who can spread the word. Initiate breakfast or lunch clubs for working parents. Flexible meeting times will accommodate working parents.
- Develop a receptive, systematic policy regarding meeting with parents. Many parents are concerned about their children's educational progress and safety, about school policies and programs, and about taking a proactive part in bettering the school climate. Ensure that parents are treated with respect and courtesy as colleagues in the education and development of their children.
- Call parents at home or even at work to congratulate them on a child's special achievement or to thank them for support on a special project. Write short letters of appreciation or thank-you notes.
- Help establish a policy in which parents become financially liable for damage done by their children. Parents and children need to be made aware of the serious consequences for criminal actions. (This already is state law in many parts of the country.)
*SSO will add more information from the NSSC as time permits.
Copyright © National School Safety Center. Reprinted with permission.