In the wake of the latest incidence of school violence, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the national conversation has turned to what the nation must to do protect our children, ensure their safety, and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
The discussion ranges from gun control or gun “sense” to the growing mental health crisis, to a culture of violence, and school safety precautions. The issues are complex and there is no quick fix. A comprehensive approach that addresses each of these areas is necessary. No doubt, these issues will be debated by many in the coming days, weeks, and months at the national, state and local levels, and answers and change slow to come.
Inevitably, we begin to wonder about the safety of our own children and what our schools are doing to keep them safe. The answer is that Adams County school districts, alongside community partners representing law enforcement, mental health, juvenile justice, early childhood and other youth-focused organizations, have been proactive in their efforts to promote the safety and healthy development of the children in this community.
Our schools and community partners are working hard to prevent school violence and promote healthy environments in our schools and communities through an innovative program called Safe Schools Healthy Students. This federally-funded initiative that began in 1999 is an unprecedented approach that strives to build a brighter future for children and youth by creating safer schools, reducing violence and substance use and increasing social-emotional, behavioral and mental health supports. It supports these outcomes through school-community partnerships, coordinated services, and comprehensive programs.
It recognizes that violence among young people is caused by a multitude of factors — including early childhood experiences, family life, mental health and substance abuse issues — and that no single action can prevent it. Every child deserves the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe and healthy environment and that is the ultimate goal of the SSHS initiative, established through a partnership among the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Department of Justice.
Key to the SSHS initiative is partnership. Issues that affect the learning and safety of the environment of schools such as bullying, fighting, ATOD use, need for mental health services, and truancy, cannot be solved by schools alone. These diverse and complex problems not only affect students and their families but also frequently spill out into the community. A community collaborative approach is most effective in responding to these issues.
The Adams County consortium among the North Adams, Adams Central and South Adams public school districts and partnering agencies was awarded nearly $3 million in 2008 to support efforts to promote the mental health of students, enhance academic achievement, prevent violence and substance use, and create safe and respectful climates through sustainable school-family-community partnerships and the use of proven prevention and early intervention programs, policies, and procedures.
Together, the SSHS partners have implemented a comprehensive plan to create a safe school environment that addresses prevention and intervention needs for violence and substance abuse issues, provides mental health services to student in needs, offers early childhood services and establishes safe school policies and practices.
(Tomorrow: Benefits of the SSHS initiative and changes which have occurred.)
— Kim Fullove is the director of the Adams County Safe Schools Healthy Students initiative. For more information on the program, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .