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Five years after Sandy Hook: Engaging students to help prevent school shootings

Sandy Hook school shooting

This week marks five years since the horrific school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.

As we remember those lost, it’s a good time to take stock of what’s changed, or hasn’t changd, since.

Despite pleas from politicians and parents of Sandy Hook and other school shooting victims, few policy changes have been made at the federal or state level in the years since the attack.

What has changed is the level of vigilience and preparedness in many schools. Just last month we saw how effective safety planning and protocols helped prevent a potential school shooting in California.

Across the country, school leaders are experiementing with programs that not only prepare their communities for the possibilty of violence in their schools, but attempt to prevent it before it happens.

A recent video report from Education Week and the PBS News Hour, highlights the work of Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit program founded by the parents of Sandy Hook victims.

The group’s goal is to equip students and school staff with the skills they need to recognize the signs of potential school violence, to report those signs to school or community authorities, and to stay engaged with students who may feel isolated.

A good place to start, according to national school violence consultant Dewey Cornell, is to look for signs of bullying. As Cornell tells the News Hour:

“You don’t prevent a forest fire by waiting until the trees are all ablaze. You pay attention to all the campfires. You make sure all the campfires are taken care of. And, we have incidents of bullying all the time in our schools. The more that we can do to deal with all these minor conflicts before they escalate into more serious ones, the better off we’ll be.”

Sandy Hook Promise works with more than 4,000 schools to help encourage students to engage their classmates and to spot warning signs of violence and report them. It also trains teachers and administrators to distinguish between potential threats and non threats.

As the News Hour reports, the majority of school shootings are perpetrated by people in the school—not outsiders. That’s why Sandy Hook Promise and other similar programs encourage school leaders and administrators to engage students who show signs of violence rather than writing them off with suspensions or other punitive measures.

As Virginia Valdes, an employee at Miami-Dade Public Schools, one of the first major districts to partner with Sandy Hook Promise, puts it:

“What I’m taking away today is: Not everything can be solved with a suspension. It takes really bringing those students together. Letting the victim feel heard. Letting the one who did the bullying understand what he did—or she did. It’s really changing our mindset.”

It’s hard to track the success of such programs, because they are preventative by nature, reports the News Hour. But, by prioritizing engagement, open conversations, and active reporting, schools can potentially recognize serious safety threats before they start.

For more on Sandy Hook Promise, check out the full video report below.

What steps does your school or district take to prevent violence in your classrooms? Have you made changes since the Sandy Hook tragedy? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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