10 Steps to a Safer School

Academic rigor, achievement on standardized tests, character education, and student behavior will always be important topics, but above all, parents want their children to come home safely and in the same physical condition as when they were loaned to public schools in the first place.

As is the case in schools around the country, our goal at China Grove Middle School in North Carolina is to make sure we take every precaution to keep students safe and able to learn while at school. Toward that end, our administrative team identified 10 realistic, relatively cost-effective strategies to help make our campus safer for our students.

Recruit effective substitutes. Although it can be difficult to find substitute teachers on certain days, recruit effective substitute teachers and make sure their experience at your school is a good one. You want them to come back regularly so that they can learn your school, know the kids, master the processes, and help you keep the school secure.

Once you’ve got them, keep them. Encourage them and make them feel as though they are an integral part of your team. Send them a positive note during class, drop a card in the mail, host an appreciation luncheon in their honor, or call home and leave a kind message on their answering machine. It will make a difference and, in the end, will keep your school staffed with people who share your vision and want all kids safe.

Create partnerships. Look around your school community. Create meaningful partnerships with businesses, other schools, and churches that are close to your campus and ask them to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. The more people you have involved, the safer your students will be.

Be visible. Make sure that all the leaders on your campus walk your grounds regularly. Walk the halls of your school several times during the day. Contact your school resource officer and invite him or her to walk with you. Not only will students note your presence, so will possible troublemakers.

Create a Stop and Ask policy. Everyone who looks unfamiliar should be stopped, unless they have a proper name tag/badge. Inform your staff of the policy and then model the expectation. If people unfamiliar to you have not gone through the correct process for being there, stop them immediately. Direct them to the office and involve other staff members as needed.

This interaction with strangers should be professional rather than confrontational, but it should be close to impossible for a stranger to come to your campus and walk the corridors before someone questions their presence.

Walk with people. When you stop outsiders in the hallway, or they come to you and ask for directions to a specific person or place, walk them to their designated areas. Ask lots of questions, and confirm that they are supposed to be on your campus.

Invest in signs. If our students are to be truly safe, they must know the rules. Budget money for signs around your campus. Post hallway rules, cafeteria guidelines, visitor processes, behavior expectations, and any other information that keeps people aware. If everyone knows the rules, it’s easier to reinforce them.

Utilize school cameras. Place school cameras in key locations—following the policy in your district. Have at least one individual who can be the “expert” on using the equipment. Not only will the use of cameras increase school safety, but often, as you give students the chance to tell the truth about incidents that occur on campus, the simple mention of a school camera will help them along.

Listen more. With the hustle and bustle of any normal day on a school campus, it’s easy to tune out the students, but they are a great source of information and often have details about things adults don’t know.

Listen to kids when they are in the hallways and ask them how they are, what’s going on, what’s new. Focus on building relationships. If you get to know kids, talk with them, and laugh with them, they will feel more comfortable telling you about something that may affect their safety. It is hard for students to confide in adults if their only contact is when they are in trouble.

Know the tough kids. Make it a point to personally know as many of your students as you can. Don’t let the “tougher” kids slip by you. Befriend them as early as possible. Brag on them, offer them a snack, and check up on them regularly. You can be a key player in changing their lives. They may still cause trouble, but since you’ve taken the time to show an interest, they may choose not to cause the trouble on your campus.

Use your human resources. Involve everyone on staff in your school safety effort. Make sure visibility is a top priority. Ensure teachers take hall duty seriously. Do not stop with the classroom teachers. Involve other individuals in your school such as school nurses, social workers, teacher assistants, secretaries, school resources officers, tutors, cafeteria employees, custodians, facilitators, and media specialists.

These strategies are simple ways to send a message loud and clear to everyone that kids are important and their safety is something you are serious about. A safe student is a student who is capable of learning.

Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, April 2009