Every parent has felt that little pang of worry as their child walks out of their sight. It’s hard when you’re not around to protect them. That’s why it’s so natural as a parent to worry about how your child’s school is creating a safe, learning environment.
At Whitby, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to create a learning environment where kids feel safe and free to be kids.
Here are five things we’ve discovered that every parent should know about school safety.
1. School safety is a broader topic than you think
The news frequently focuses on the need for schools to prevent violent incidents. Crisis prevention plans are critical, but it’s just as important to look into how the school works to keep kids safe on a daily basis. Schools can be impacted by everything from natural events like hurricanes, tornados or earthquakes, to fires and power outages.
School safety also includes making sure that children are able to eat healthy meals, study, play and explore the use of technology in safe environments. It’s also about protecting students by making sure that kids are picked up after school only by approved parents or caretakers.
2. Emotional health is a big factor
Growing up isn’t always easy. That’s why schools need to worry just as much about children’s mental and emotional health as they should worry about their physical well-being. Many problems, from eating disorders to violent behavior, can be prevented if a child feels safe and and accepted by their peers.
To create an environment where students feel safe from an emotional level, it’s important for students to have a trusted adult they can talk to about their issues and who they feel is invested in their success.
At Whitby, we accomplish this by pairing each child with advisors who meet with them on a regular basis. It’s also important that schools give students the tools they need to head off social conflicts before they start. By teaching kids developmentally-appropriate interpersonal skills, they can learn how to communicate their needs more effectively, listen better to their peers, treat others with respect and manage disagreements with their peers.
3. The building design matters
Safety reports often focus on how schools are increasing security monitors and adding bulletproof coatings to door locks to help keep students safe. Those aren’t the only things that are important though. There should be secure areas where students are protected if there’s a tornado or storm, and multiple exits so students can evacuate quickly in case of a fire. If where you live is prone to earthquakes, the school should also have taken precautions to secure heavy furniture and make sure that kids won’t be injured by falling objects.
The layout of school buildings should also be designed with safety in mind. There should be secure entrances so only approved staff, parents and students can enter the building, and security monitors set-up in several places so that cameras can be easily monitored by multiple people. Cameras should also be set-up to get a clear shot of the license plates of all vehicles that drive onto school grounds.
4. Training needs to be prioritized
Even if a school is designed with every safety precaution in mind and has developed a comprehensive emergency response plan, what really matters is how people respond in the event of a crisis. Bo Mitchell, President of 911 Consulting in Greenwich, Connecticut, emphasizes the importance of understanding and applying the three Cs - command, communication, and control - in different emergency situations.
To ensure that people respond quickly and in the right way to emergency situations, Mitchell recommends practicing until the response is automatic. Schools should have regular drills so that students know exactly what to do and where to go if there’s a fire or other crisis. They should also train educators and staff in their emergency procedures, both when a new employee starts and periodically to include new best practices.
5. A communication plan is crucial
Mobile phones give parents the illusion of being always able to connect with children and their schools, but cell phone network overload can quickly occur if everyone is trying to get in touch at the same time. Natural disasters in particular make communications difficult — but even large sporting events can overwhelm a network.
No parent wants to feel in the dark though when they need to know about their child’s safety. That’s why it’s key for schools to have a plan for how they’ll reach out to parents during a crisis. Schools should let parents know how they can expect to be informed (by email, text, or phone call) and be clear how and when they will reach out. Schools should also be able to share how they’ll communicate with students and staff to let them know what is going on and how they should respond.
There’s nothing more important than creating an environment that keeps kids safe. At Whitby, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time developing a school safety plan and training our team for how to respond during emergencies. No matter whether their child is 18 months or 14 years old, we want parents to feel that we care as much about their child as they do.