Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Transforming Our Schools: The Hearts and Bricks of School Security

On Saturday, April 14, 2007, thanks to the leadership of Ralph Flood and Joe Pesavento of the Mid Hudson Teacher Center in partnership with the SUNY New Paltz School of Education and NYS Teacher Centers, a security awareness, violence prevention and character education conference was held at the Marlboro High School in Marlboro, New York. The collaborative event included the participation of 17 co-sponsoring teacher centers from counties throughout New York State.

This conference was in response to ongoing school violence concerns throughout the nation and the need to develop safe learning environments with academic standards of excellence and cultivating a culture of character education. The conference focused on "the heart" as well as "the brick" aspects of school security to:

  • Affirm the educators role in the lives of their students
  • Encourage the collaboration within the community
  • Inspire attendees to a renewed commitment
  • Highlight the key components of a school safety plan
  • Review and enhance school security and character education plans through team work sessions
Robert Mahoney, Executive Director of the Security Management Group and a former FBI assistant inspector with nationwide responsibilities for inspections, audits and investigations gave an extraordinary presentation on school safety plans and crisis management. Mr. Mahoney's experience was invaluable since on the morning of September 11, 2001, he was in the World Trade Center and thereafter served as Command Post Supervisor in recovery and crisis management.

[Reprinted from the Robert Mahoney presentation]

First Objective of a School Safety Plan

  • Awareness of Problem
  • Knowledge of Appropriate Responses
  • Provide Students with the means to avoid violence-Prevention and Intervention is important
Reasons Schools Do Not Plan
  • Denial of Problems
  • Being Reticent to Make Crisis Management a Priority
  • Allowing Oneself to be Unaware of Risks Inherent to a School
  • Ignoring Warning Signs as they Emerge
  • Relying on Weak and Untested Plans-false sense of security
Questions that must be Answered
  • What are the possible threats?
  • What are the critical assets?
  • Are the assets vulnerable?
  • What is the level of risk to each asset?
  • What can be done to mitigate the risk?
  • What resources, partners and education is needed?
  • What policies, regulations and procedures are needed?
Mr. Mahoney also presented the liability issue of foreseeable risks reminding all that we must be aware of exposure and be preventative. He explained the New York State S.A.V.E. law and provided the leadership necessary to answer the aforementioned questions and provided insight with the development of plans and drills. He encouraged the execution of drills not only during conveniently announced times to staff but unannounced times prior to the school day, after school when students are boarding buses and being picked up by parents and even at large athletic events since this type of preparedness is required by law.

As the speaker for the event on "the heart" portion of school violence prevention, I spoke about the crisis of character in contemporary society, the incredible technological progress we have made as opposed to the lack of human relationship progress and the influential role educators have in the lives of children. All present were reminded that they are in privileged positions of trust and critical to the renewal of character in their schools and to America itself.

After the presentations, half of the attendees met with Robert Mahoney to renew and enhance school safety plans and half met with me to renew and enhance character education programs. My group immediately was divided into 7 teams to discuss and brainstorm on character education and to choose a team leader to present findings to the assembly. Their effort and findings were edifying and shared as a point of reference to assist schools with the development of a character education culture:

Sue Eagan, Teacher for 33 Years
(31 Years as a 2nd grade teacher)
Marlboro Central School District, Marlboro, NY

  • Acts of Kindness are important and must be enhanced not only by students but by teachers and administrators as well. This must be the philosophy of the school and district with awards, photographing and even a district and school character education committee just as there are school safety committees.
  • Conflict resolution skills are important and group dynamics must always be managed so only one is speaking at a time
  • Patriotism can be instilled with flag day programs, the learning of patriotic songs, patriotic discussions in classes and the invitation of military personnel to visit the school to deliver presentations
  • Educators must be sensitive to broken families and that many children are under stress. It is heartbreaking that there is a pandemic of divorce and many children feel the brokenness and often blame themselves
Terri Tomanelli, Teacher for 25 Years
Marlboro High School, Marlboro, NY
  • Educators must listen to children since society and families are not cooperating with the education of youth. Classrooms must have open door polices where children know they are welcome to come before or after school to speak with a teacher about concerns
  • Good behavior must be modeled by all of the staff of a school
  • Extraordinary educators empathize. They allow youth to share opinions, show appreciation and interest in what is important to their students, build rapport and earn trust. The educators who respect their students are respected by them and have no discipline problems in their classrooms
  • Clubs, sports and extracurricular activities are essential to character education and the qualities of character must be instilled there as well. Students must be encouraged to participate and supported in their efforts
  • Positive Behavior Intervention rewards for pro social behavior is positive especially since so many students have a need to be recognized and appreciated
  • Bring in community members to speak with the class and make positive connections
Sabrina Thorpe, Teacher for 10 Years
Krieger School, Poughkeepsie, NY
  • A word of the day that reminds and inspires a character education quality such as respect, trust, patience, kindness, thoughtfulness is helpful
  • Bullying prevention is important and schools must be bully free zones
  • Leadership development programs are important and leadership initiatives can be an important for a classroom, school and district
  • Character education must be instilled not only in each classroom but it must be a culture that is instilled within the entire school and the district
Sarah Amodeo, 2nd Grade Teacher in her Second Year
Marlboro Elementary School, Marlboro, NY
  • Character Education can be instilled through skits, role playing, right choice initiatives and sharing times where students have the opportunity to express themselves and get positive reinforcement and guidance
  • The tone of character education must begin at the initiation of the school year with class and school rules and the encouragement of acts of kindness, reading of books with good moral values and ethics and reminders of the importance of avoiding unhealthy habits, inappropriate remarks
  • Children need praise and many of them feel invisible to adults
  • Field trips are important so friendships can be developed
  • Certificates of award are important especially with the recognition that comes with them. Many youth treasure the memory of these recognitions for a life time
Steve Grey, Teacher for 7 years
Marlboro High School, NY
  • The positive mentoring of younger students by older students must be cultivated
  • Random acts of kindness must be cultivated and awarded at school assemblies
  • Students need recognition and this must be understood, appreciated and cultivated in the school
  • Students will hold each other accountable and up to high standards if the character culture is taken seriously
Elaine Buckton, Teacher for 18 years
Cahill Elementary School, Saugerties, NY
  • Character education theme posters must be more then wall coverings-they must be supported by dedication to a character education environment
  • Kindness is contagious and there can be programs where children can nominate winners who display character qualities
  • Character and discipline are inseparable and if character is deeply rooted it will affect the overall discipline of a classroom and school
  • Successful alumni can be invited back to speak to and motivate students
  • A "Pay-It-Forward" program can be developed where character qualities are represented and awarded
  • Study buddies is positive since it encourages students to help each other
  • Programs that help the community soup kitchen or welcome home soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan can be developed
Dawn Sala, School Psychologist/Educator for 16 years
Myers Corners Elementary, Wappingers Falls, NY
  • Character education must be district wide and taken seriously with character education committees that provide leadership
  • Each school must be involved with character education
  • Food drives for those in need must be fostered
  • Veterans banners that express appreciation for those in military service as well as for their families must be displayed
  • Posters are helpful such as the one noticed in the hallway outside this auditorium "Attitude is Everything"
  • Award coupons can be given that can be redeemed for various prizes
  • Assemblies that foster patriotism are needed
  • Essay contests on character can be cultivated with winners reading portions of their essays on the PA system

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