#schoolsafety | A decade of Keeping Kids Safe

BCIU chief reviews efforts to promote safety in Berks County schools.

Written by Dr. Jill Hackman

The safety and security of the students and staff in our schools continues to be a top priority of our community. It is evident that we must search for and be open to ways to enhance our school safety efforts and provide our schools with the necessary resources to keep our students safe. We should embrace opportunities to learn more about and raise awareness of ideas already working for other communities and schools.

To this effort, the Berks County Intermediate Unit has worked with schools and other community agencies to coordinate the Keeping Kids Safe Symposium annually since 2009.

Since the symposium’s inception, topics have included the following important areas: bullying and social networking, all hazard planning and standard response protocols, school safety and emergency preparedness, drug use, suicide prevention, navigating gender identity issues, cyber security, gang activity, and active shooter response.

Symposium sponsors and partners have included the Berks County Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Program, the Berks County district attorney’s office, the Center for Safe Schools, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, the Council on Chemical Abuse, law enforcement, emergency services, first responders, county commissioners, state legislators and other education and community agencies.

In this 10th year of the Keeping Kids Safe Symposium, the focus of the event is Create a Culture of Kindness.” Student-led efforts and creation of a positive school climate will be addressed by Michael Scott, brother of Rachel Joy Scott, who lost her life in the Columbine High School shootings 20 years ago in Colorado. His group, Rachel’s Challenge, exists to equip and inspire individuals to replace acts of violence, bullying, and negativity with acts of respect, kindness and compassion.

As educators, we begin laying the foundation of respect, kindness, and compassion in school as early as pre-kindergarten. This foundation is at the core of a safe-school culture.

The symposium, as well as other safety programs and initiatives, brings together the Berks community to have collaborative discussions around school safety best practices and develop tools and solutions to address safety concerns. Communication and emergency preparedness tools such as CrisisGo, all hazard plans and standard response protocols offer administrators and educators quick and effective channels for executing crisis communications and alerting school personnel, first responders and parents in the event of an emergency. These tools help to keep these groups on the same page, which is critical should such an incident occur.

The Safe2Say Something program teaches youth and adults how to recognize warning signs, especially on social media, from individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others. The program also offers an anonymous reporting system for students to convey their concerns, feelings of self-harm, or serious school safety warnings. The more recent addition of a Safety and Security Program Administrator at the BCIU presents Berks schools with a resource for crisis and emergency response planning, safe schools training, site assessments and countywide collaboration.

Each of us has a role to play in improving the safety of our students and the security of our schools. Only by working together can we successfully support the 70,000 students we serve in Berks and help to keep them safe and secure. We are fortunate in Berks County that our schools have partnerships with experts and key officials in law enforcement, emergency services, mental health, and social services. These close working relationships provide school leaders with support and guidance as they work to provide our students and staff with a safe and secure learning environment which is of utmost importance to our schools.

Our top priority is keeping our kids safe and to do that we must use the resources available to educators, students, and the community to promote a safe school climate. Whether it be in the classroom, at home, or out in the community, we must commit to creating a culture of kindness.

Rachel Joy Scott said, “Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People don’t realize how far a little kindness will go.”

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