Home > Uncategorized > While Alabama Adds Security Guards, San Diego Embraces “Trauma Informed School” Model… And Gets Results

While Alabama Adds Security Guards, San Diego Embraces “Trauma Informed School” Model… And Gets Results

August 5, 2018

Two articles on school safety in today’s Google feed on Public Education caught my eye: one describing the efforts to “harden” schools in Alabama; and one on the creation of partnerships to implement restorative justice in San Diego public schools. Guess which is getting the best results?

The article from Alabama.com’s Trisha Powell Crain reported that one out of four Alabama schools lacked a security guard, which the State legislature and, presumably, parents and teachers see as a deficiency. Indeed, the legislature saw it as such a deficiency that the they a law called “the Alabama Sentry Program”, “…which allows administrators to keep a firearm in a secured safe on campus for use during an active shooter incident.” The Governor of the State sees the hiring of SROs as preferable, but believe arming administrators as allowed by the Sentry Program “…will provide a way for administrators to keep schools safe.”

Meanwhile, the State Superintendent views the school shootings across the nation as analogous to a national emergency, and as such, as invested thousands of dollars from discretionary funds to help address the problem. How was that money spent? It was used to implement low cost statewide initiatives recommended by a task force created by the Governor: the Securing Alabama’s Facilities of Education, or SAFE, Council. Among the recommendations funded using discretionary funds were the Alabama Fusion Center, “…a command post for law enforcement statewide, to follow threats to school safety, improving the timeliness of reporting serious discipline problems to the Fusion Center, ensuring schools follow through with required training and drills for students in the event of a school shooting, and creating seven regional school safety and compliance teams to support schools statewide.

But the major recommendations of the SAFE Council could not be implemented in most districts because they lack sufficient funds. Those recommendation recommendations include funding for SROs, mental health supports for students, and improved building security measures. They have not been implemented in “…in rural areas or are in schools with large numbers of students in poverty” because they “...require legislative approval and cannot be fully implemented unless funding can be obtained.” Allowing administrators to carry guns, though, did not require legislation.

If Alabama wants to know how to address school violence on a shoe string, they might look to San Diego schools, who adopted a “trauma-informed” discipline model that draws on the expertise and services offered by community non-profits in the city to assist in addressing the trauma’s that children experience outside of school, trauma’s that manifest themselves in the misbehavior and acting out of children in the school. What is a “trauma-informed school”?

…a place where everyone from the principal to the school custodian seeks to understand and heal the difficult experiences that cause kids to act out. It’s an approach that calls for revised disciplinary practices, social-emotional instruction, school-wide training about trauma, strong parental engagement, and intensive individual support where needed, as well as partnerships with community organizations to support these efforts.

The entire approach, as reported in a Non-Profit Quarterly article by Suzann Bohan, is captured in this simple change in phraseology the advocated by Godwin Higa, the former Cherokee Point elementary principal who devised this approach realizing that children who face trauma at home often act out at school:

When a student at Cherokee Point acts out, punishment is not the first response. An administrator or teacher will likely ask, “What happened to you?”—not “What’s wrong with you?” As Higa explains, “When you ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ it’s totally negative right away, versus ‘What’s happening to you, you don’t seem right.’ As soon as we say that, the kids look at you like ‘How did you know that I’m feeling down today?’” When they’re done talking, usually the child feels better and returns to class, the disruptive behavior occurs less often and generally fades away after a few more talks, and a trusting bond is formed, he said.

In reading about the profile of school shooters, it is evident that almost all of them were disengaged and, in many cases, their actions were not a surprise to students and teachers. Could an extension of this program to include reaching out to disengaged students prevent school shootings? From my perspective that is an immaterial question, for any initiative that addresses the whole child, and initiative that makes any child feel better about themselves, is one that should be embraced by schools.

And for those who want to harden schools, do ANY efforts to harden schools make any child feel better about themselves? Do any efforts to harden schools address the needs of the whole child? If not, why are we wasting millions on SROs, entry “systems”, and school shooter training… all dollars that are reinforcing fear and isolation from the community?

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