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Educators, community reps train on violence prevention - The Warren Record: News

Educators, community reps train on violence prevention

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Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2018 9:46 am | Updated: 9:49 am, Wed Oct 3, 2018.

Representatives of Warren County Schools and a number of community agencies devoted last Thursday to completing training exercises as the local school system implements the Sandy Hook Promise school violence prevention program.

A comprehensive program

During the 2017-18 school year, the board of education voted for Warren County Schools to adopt Sandy Hook Promise, a gun violence prevention program that focuses on recognizing warning signs far in advance so that people can receive intervention and treatment before they resort to school violence.  The program is a national nonprofit organization founded and led by family members of people killed during a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

Dr. Ray Spain, superintendent of schools, said that school officials were impressed with the Sandy Hook Promise program because it addressed issues and concerns that could lead students to bullying, violence and suicide.

“It was more than anything I had seen,” he said. “It offered a comprehensive approach to school violence.”

Spain and other school system administrators also were impressed that the program focused on school systems’ youngest students to prevent feelings of isolation that could lead to anti-social behavior and serious problems when students grow older.

“If we can help students in elementary school, (feelings) may not manifest in problems in middle and high school,” Spain said.

A focus on prevention

Warren County Schools offered last week’s training to people in diverse roles who work with students. Cathy Alston-Kearney, school system student success coordinator, said that principals and counselors from each school in the local district attended, along with other personnel such as librarians and custodians.

Also attending were school system administrators, the Warren County Board of Education, local law enforcement, and representatives from the Boys & Girls Club of Warren County and Warren County Cooperative Extension.

Alston-Kearney echoed a statement made by facilitator Dr. Sharmila Mehta, a clinical psychologist, who said that most people think about school security measures when they consider how to prevent school violence. Prevention is harder to grasp.

Alston-Kearney said that training participants learned how to recognize the difference between when someone communicates a threat and when the person poses a threat.

“If it is an immediate threat, call law enforcement,” she said. “Or does the student need counseling or just blowing off steam?”

Training participants completed exercises related to scenarios in which they chose the best response based upon a protocol determining the threat level of each situation.

Alston-Kearney said that participants learned that not all situations are serious enough to need law enforcement intervention, but seemingly insignificant signs of distress should not be ignored.

“The training showed that if you ignore the small things if someone is in distress, (the person) will keep escalating actions until someone pays attention,” she added.

Spain described the training as outstanding, providing a clear set of actions to follow if a crisis should occur.

Moving to the school level

Alston-Kearney said that the personnel teams who completed the training will be responsible for assessing the threat level of incidents at their schools. Safety assessment and intervention training will be offered for other school personnel as well.

She said that the threat assessment protocol is designed to work in conjunction with the school system’s anti-bullying app through which students may anonymously report acts of bullying. When a tip is received, the school’s team will investigate to determine if student counseling or other actions are needed.

Each incident will be evaluated on an individual basis to determine how to best help students, whether through school counselors or social workers, or outside agencies.

“It is not punitive,” Alston-Kearney said. “It eliminates the isolation that leads to distress to help the student overcome distress.”

She said that parents will receive information related to the Sandy Hook Promise during Parent-Teacher Association meetings.

Middle and high school students will learn how to recognize and report signs of distress so that students can receive the help they need.

Alston-Kearney said that school counselors and social workers will complete training in signs that students could be considering suicide. Counselors and social workers will train other faculty members.

“We must be vigilant to be able to help students with whatever is going on in their lives,” she said.

Helping students now

Local elementary schools are implementing a component of the Sandy Hook Promise program designed to prevent students from feeling like they are alone with no friends.

To make sure all students feel like they belong, teachers have been taking such actions as changing seating arrangements periodically so that students will get to know classmates they may not spend time with, and make new friends.

“If you sit next to different students, you have to talk to them and get to know them,” Alston-Kearney said. “You don’t want to hurt a friend.”

School counselors also work with students on a regular basis to prevent feelings of isolation and help students learn how to avoid becoming the target of a bully.

Spain said that at a time when school violence is becoming more prevalent in other areas of the country, the Sandy Hook Promise’s focus on prevention and early intervention  is exactly what Warren County needs to keep local students safe.

“(The program) is one of the things we can possibly do to prevent the kinds of crises that you see in other areas,” he said.

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