Schools and the Need for Safety - Kimberly Thompson

This article is the second in the Taking Care of #1 series, about the hierarchy of human needs, how we experience those needs, and what we can do to help ourselves move toward higher-order living. It is out of order because our guest blogger’s computer decided to malfunction at a very crucial moment. 

Second only to basic survival needs such as food and water, your very human need for safety is fundamental to who you are. You don’t only need to feel that your family is safe and secure at home, but also to feel that your child is safe at school. From the moment your child is born you have an overwhelming feeling of responsibility to keep her safe. This task can be difficult in today’s world and certainly gives any parent reason to think “What can I do? I’m just one person.” That feeling of frustration and anxiety is even worse when school shootings occur. School is the place you send your child five days every week, trusting other people to keep her safe. It’s not just about you either – your child will be willing to try almost anything she is challenged to do in school, if she has a feeling of being safe.

This generation is not the first to have that feeling of being out of control. I remember vividly the nuclear bomb drills we had while I was in elementary school. I also remember the explanation my father gave as to why we were having those drills. It must have been heartbreaking for him to have to give such a candid explanation to his children. Now that I’m older I think back on that time in my life and oddly I never felt fear. How did my father give my brother and I such an honest answer without sending us into a panic? I think the feeling of safety came from the knowledge that my parents and my school worked together to create a plan. Sadly, parents often fear that schools don’t think about safety, because they are too wrapped up in educating and testing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers know that keeping their students safe is the most important job they do. Whether it’s an unfamiliar dog on the playground, a paper cut, or an active shooter – student safety is the #1 priority.

If you want to give your child a feeling of being safe and secure at school, don’t be the parent screaming at the PTA meeting to make your school safe. Instead be the parent who is the chairman or member of a Safe and Secure school committee. Be the parent who helps the school be safe by making a plan with the school administration. Be the parent who talks respectfully about how hard the school is working to keep the children safe.This will create an atmosphere of safety for your child. Yes, the children will have to have those active shooter drills along with the fire drills and weather drills. Yes, you will have to have those hard conversations with your child, just like my father had with me. When you do have that talk, you will also be able to talk about the plan that has been made and that you have been a part of creating that plan. This will give your child comfort, peace of mind, and the feeling of being safe and secure at school.

When your school is getting started there are some things that you and the school can do that won’t be costly. While I am not a safety expert, I was a kindergarten teacher for many years. I have observed and participated in measures to keep children and teachers safe.  If your child’s school does not have strong safety measures in place, you can be the catalyst to get it done. Be sure to get your district or city police involved in your planning. Here are some of the ideas I have seen work:

1. Require that all faculty, staff, and parent volunteers have a background check.

2. Require that all faculty, staff and parent volunteers wear a school-issued photo i.D.

3. Keep all exterior doors locked, and only have one point of entry to your school.

4. Keep all classroom doors locked.

5. Train the children not to open doors for anyone without a badge – especially someone unfamiliar to them or who does not belong at the school. 

6. Train children to report anyone in the school without a badge, and require that teachers or staff escort any person not wearing a badge to the office to get one. No exceptions!

I volunteer at the school where I taught for many years, and the faculty and children know me. Despite my familiar face around the school, a kindergartner called me out one day when I forgot to wear my badge.  A teacher then escorted me to the office to get a temporary one. I enjoyed that teachable moment and the teachers had fun with it too. If children are taught to be both polite and vigilant, and if teachers are careful to explain the school’s safety policy, school visitors should be understanding. Signs explaining the badge policy should be posted as visitors enter the school. This will remind visitors to get their badge, and will keep it from seeming like a personal affront.

7. An easy (but not free!) way to keep track of visitors is for your school district to purchase software and equipment to scan drivers’ licenses, create photo badges, and check for anyone who is a registered sex offender. This can be used when parents, friends, relatives and other visitors come to school who have not been through the background check process.

8. Consider a WATCH D.O.G.S.  or similar program.  Dads, grandfathers, uncles and other important male figures in a child’s life, after passing a background check and going through training, volunteer at least one day a year to come to school and be a “Watch Dog”. The training to be a Watch Dog  is provided by the Watch Dog program.

The children often see their mothers volunteering at school, so it is pretty special to see how excited they get when their dad is also volunteering and being a Watch Dog. This is not the only school safety program out there – do your homework and then submit a proposal to your school or your district. There is bound to be a program that meets your school’s needs.

These are things I have seen work in the schools. I encourage you to come up with your own ideas that fit your child’s school. Some ideas you will come up with will need to be approved by the district, and almost all measures will require some sort of funding. If it’s a problem to get district or state funding for the program you want, the school can apply for grant money. Find out who in your community knows how to write grant applications, and who in your community would be willing to underwrite a safety program. Your school district, city police, and the community at large will be your best source for ideas and information – so involve everyone you can in your school safety committee.

Be the parent that helps your school be the model for safety. Be the parent that volunteers to write a grant or go to the district to get permission to implement something new and innovative at your school. Make those hard conversations you must have with your child easier because you can talk about what you have done to make your child and the other children feel safe and secure at school.

ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER

   Marybeth Porter graduated from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching. She holds certifications in kindergarten, early childhood and special education. She taught in public school in Texas for 37 years, all in kindergarten, first and second grades. Her primary experience is in kindergarten and first grade. She retired in 2014 and now volunteers her time at Sugar Mill Elementary in Sugarland, Texas because she loves working with the children. Marybeth says that working with the children and watching them grow in knowledge and confidence is the best part of teaching.

ABOUT THE MOMMY MENTOR

I’m Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist with a maternal mental health practice in Lubbock, TX. From pre-conception to the empty nest, mothers can work with me in-person and online. Download my free e-book, The Busy Mom’s Self-Care Planner, and bring yourself into your circle of care. You can also find my book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, on Amazon and the Praeclarus Press website.

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