COLORADO SPRINGS — Safer schools means safer communities. Earlier this week, school safety teams from local school districts participated in a new violence prevention training.
The goal is is to prevent school violence across the nation. Five school districts in El Paso County were part of the two-day pilot training to learn more about school violence prevention from the nation's top experts.
The two-day training happened on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds & Events Center in Castle Rock. Among the five local school districts who participated were Colorado Springs D11, Harrison D2, Academy D20, Cheyenne Mountain D12, and Manitou Springs D14. School districts from several other states were also in attendance.
The training is an integrated program, and it's called Project Unite. School resources officers and school safety teams learned how to implement four strategies for school violence prevention. They are:
- Creating a positive culture and climate: creating a safe environment in a school setting and recognize when bullying happens
- Bystander reporting and response: recognize warning signs, if a classmate, friend or family member sees that someone is exhibiting concerning behavior, report it to a school official or report it anonymously to Safe2tell
- Information sharing: how to gather and share information with first responders and safety teams, and create a safety intervention for a student or school
- Behavioral threat and suicide risk management: determine what's going on with the person exhibiting concerning behavior, and provide resources to help for them
When combining all of these evidence-based tactics, experts say it will prevent school violence.
"It was really bringing together who's who in school safety and who can assist and prepare a curriculum that can be shared across the country on how to prevent violence in schools," said Susan Payne, the founder and former Executive Director of Safe2tell. She's also the Director of Safety and Security for Cheyenne Mountain School District.
"I think the goal is, we want to prevent what's preventable. We want to know that, we can in some cases, we know that bad things may happen, but that we're also prepared to mitigate the consequences when bad things happen," Payne added.
Payne also said the training focused on learning about the preventative measures versus reactive measures. So, instead of focusing on how to restore the learning environment after a school shooting, experts are focusing on how to prevent a shooting in the first place.
"Colorado has really experienced so many school shootings and tragedies that we really wanted to circle back now that we're 22 years past Columbine and say, 'Here are the elements of prevention that need to be shared,' and how are we going to emphasize that with every safety and security team at every school across the country," said Payne.
Experts say, while many schools face challenges related to the pandemic, acts of violence continue to impact schools. That's why investing in school districts and their role in prevention is more important than ever before.
It's a community effort, and takes a lot of people working together to make sure school violence and shootings are prevented. "If you see something, say something" is a message we're all familiar with if you suspect violence will happen within a school setting.
"In the last 20 years, sometimes it's, how to do we respond to a school shooting? What's the aftermath? How do restore the learning environment? But we know what we can do to prevent it. In the aftermath of a tragedy, we can look in hindsight and say, 'If only everybody knew these facts before it happened, we might have been able to prevent this,'" said Payne.
Schools will now take what they learned in that training and implement it on their campus. Over the next few months, they'll see what works and what doesn't work and provide feedback on best practices moving forward. The group will reconvene at the end of the school year.
This was the second violence prevention training of its kind with pilot schools participating. The first training happened in Alexandria, Virginia on January 11-12. Their hopes are that this new training will be shared with schools nation-wide come next school year.
Payne also mentioned parents are also part of the solution. Recognize warning signs early, and report concerning behavior if you see it.
Project Unite is sponsored by the National Association of School Resource Officers, and funded through a grant issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
For more information about Project Unite, click here.