At the May 4th Leaders Connect Breakfast, we were honored to host a distinguished panel from the local education community to discuss the current issues impacting keeping our kids safe at school.  Participating in the panel were: Jeanice Swift, Ann Arbor Schools Superintendent; Christine Stead, Ann Arbor School Board President; Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Superintendent; and Elizabeth Birr Moje, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Education.  Two distinguished audience members, Sherrell Hobbs, Assistant Superintendent Ypsilanti Schools, and Bob Gulardi, Consultant to Detroit Public Schools, were able to join the panel and offer more insight on the issues.

Below are the key take-aways:

  • To increase safety in schools we must care for the social and emotional needs of children and teens.  Forming a relationships with the kids is the most vital safety measure – “The best metal detector is a relationship with the kids by the adults.”  Children need to feel safe, and if they have a good relationship with an adult they are more likely to share their safety concerns.  It’s transparency; not snitching. Anonymous reporting, like the text line that Ann Arbor schools added, help kids report safety concerns without fear of retaliation.   
  • Community and parental support creates a nurturing environment for children to feel safe.  ” We take children from where they are at”.  In many cases this is a community and home environment that lacks adequate nurturing.   “Parents give kids the best they have, so give the parents more to go on.”  Detroit Schools has implemented a Parent Academy to focus on: 1)educating parents and helping them feel more comfortable to get involved in the schools; 2)teaching them to interact with kids to make them think; 3)helping parents learn how to manage social issues; and 4)helping them overcome socio-economic challenges.
  • Kids are experiencing anxiety and trauma at alarming rates due to issues ranging from test anxiety to immigration concerns to neighborhood violence. For some children, school is a sanctuary, the safest place for them to be.  We need to start having national conversations about safety concerns in the community, especially in urban poor communities, like Detroit, where children face threats of violence on a day to day basis.  For children in these communities, gun violence is more likely to happen in their neighborhoods and parks than at their school.
  • Guns cause disruption in schools.  Gun control and gun access is a great challenge in our country.  Other countries with more strict gun control, like Scotland, the UK, Japan, and China, experience less mass shootings. Some would propose arming “good guys” with guns to counter-attack the “bad guys” with guns.  “Good guys can sometimes cause more mayhem and death”.  The theory of good guys with guns saving the day should be tried and tested in adult settings but not in the schools.  
  • Look for signs of micro- aggression like bullying and cyber bullying and intervene early.  
  • Politics are important.  Know the issues. Know the candidates.  Vote.  This is the only way to create and maintain positive change.  There are currently three issues in congress that could remove the current school policy of no guns on school property.  
  • Teachers are under a lot of stress in their profession, encouraging their students to learn while at the same time worrying about violence and trauma.  The School of Education at the University of Michigan is focusing on teaching students active shooter training and social/emotional learning.  They have developed a “Trauma Informed Practice Certificate” for teachers in their program.  
  • Enrollment in College of Education programs is on the decline nationally. There is a growing lack of respect for the teaching profession in this country.  Some would say the answer is to impose less educational and training requirements for teacher certification, but let’s make it harder to be a teacher.  Like in the medical profession, we only want the best to perform medical procedures, we should also want the best and the brightest teaching our children.  
  • Let’s spend less time amplifying the negative and more energy on who we are.  Educators and communities can learn best practices from one another.
  • How do we deal with a society of troubled individuals? 1)re-think how we deal with discipline and mental health issues; 2)go deeper into why the offender is doing it; 3)practice patience with a sense of urgency.

We need to continue talking about this important issue.  Children are our future, and we need to have more national concern for their education and safety.  I would like to hear your thoughts and any actions you plan to take. Dr Rob

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