Thursday, March 14, 2013

Parent Engagement and the Sandy Hook Tragedy

kid behind bars.jpg

(This is a stock photo I took off the internet to make a point.)

Today is a mere 3 months since the tragic killing of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. The initial reactions have simmered down and yet, it's left many parents and educators feeling unsettled and more concerned than ever about school safety. Furthermore, we as a society can't seem to agree on how to ensure it never happens again. I have worked on many school campuses and know that schools cannot become lock tight in terms of security unless we build, treat and resource them like prisons. 

One of our jobs in HIPPY is to help parents understand the importance of being involved in their child's education at home and at school. Through home visits and our 30 week curriculum we arm parents with the information and skills they need to prepare their child for school. Our ultimate goal is for parents to transition their involvement to the school setting once their child enters Kindergarten. Every week home visitors offer parents volunteer opportunities and ask  parents if they volunteered the prior week. We challenge every parent to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours per year - a reachable goal that many of them greatly exceed. While we are busy preparing, encouraging and challenging parents to become more involved, we are sending them into schools that may or may not have the infrastructure, support or atmosphere needed for parent involvement. Research has proven that parents' involvement at their child's school is indispensable to the child's education and a prison-like environment would greatly reduce that critically important involvement. 

I'm also concerned that schools should be places that allow children to not only be and feel safe but to also to guard children's innocence. Yet, a prison-like environment creates a sense of fear and insecurity that robs our children of their childhood. Expert advice on how to discuss the tragedy said among other things to "project stability and calmness in relation to the event." How do we balance age appropriate safety precautions, parent involvement and maintaining safety? 

I believe it benefits us to look at the airline industry (which has plenty of problems too) and how security has developed since the 9-11 attacks. This is what they've come up with: 

  • * A secure periphery (security gates)
  • * Anonymous spot checking (air marshals)
  • * Expedited screening for "trusted travelers" who submit to a pre-screening process
  • * A culture of alertness (travelers, employees, etc.)
I believe all four of these components could be integrated into our planning for school safety. School design and redesign could focus more on safety, the way that airport entrances and access points changed. Safety plans are only as good as their daily implementation - and just as we have fire and tornado drills, we should include safety drills and spot checks from authorized agents. Parents and volunteers already go through screening in most school districts, this along with a safe perimeter would increase safety - we cannot sacrifice parent involvement to our fear. And finally, safety is only as good as all of us are at keeping it and being alert and involved. With all these, and working together, we can make our schools safer without creating a prison setting for our children. 


Isaac said...

Fear is cancer to a growing mind! I hope somebody listens to your excellent suggestions.

Carla Mowell said...

I agree with you Isaac. Make your voice heard too - spreading peace and calm takes all of us.