2018-10-19 / Columns

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Superintendent’s Spotlight
By Kathryn Hawes Special to the Post

A main focus of our five-year strategic plan is the promotion of healthy learning environments in RSU 21.

We have made substantial progress in our infrastructure. Just three years ago, Kennebunk High School had 56 external doors (many of which did not latch well) and a dozen portable classrooms in the backyard.

Students in wheelchairs needed to travel up to a quarter mile inside and outside of the building in order to get to an accessible bathroom from some areas of the school.

We now have structurally safe, newly renovated and accessible buildings. However, the promotion of healthy learning environments goes well beyond bricks and mortar. To us, fostering healthy learning environments is also about promoting an inclusive and positive culture while attending to the social and emotional needs of our developing students.

In effort to support this focus, we are partnering with Sandy Hook Promise, Know the Signs Programs.

Each of our schools began this work the week of Sept. 24 when we celebrated Start With Hello Week, preventing social isolation and promoting social inclusivity and acceptance of all students.

Earlier this month, nearly 100 parents and community members joined a presentation on Sandy Hook Promise. The following day, all teachers in grades PK-12 were trained in the Say Something Program, focusing on helping all members of our school community, especially students, to learn how to identify and report issues of concern and use our new anonymous digital reporting system.

The system will allow all members of our community to report life threatening and non-life threatening events that may be linked to our schools.

The 24/7 crisis line, police dispatch, RSU 21 administrators and RSU 21 technology department have all been busy developing our response protocols.

Kennebunk High School students have formed a Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), student-led, nationally-affiliated club to promote student leadership.

Students in grades six through 12 will receive in-person training in November before we go live with the system. The training will focus on teaching students to recognise the signs of potential risk, especially on social media, understand the importance of reporting when the purpose is to get someone help or protection, practice ways to share information and learn to use the anonymous reporting system.

Nationally, teenagers spend an average of nine hours every day on social media, they use six different social media platforms each day, and 80 percent of their communication takes place over a phone or device.

They are most likely the first to see the potential signs of violence or self-harm. This training will empower students to stand up and take action.

Also next month, our principals will all receive advanced training in the investigation and intervention processes for bullying, cyberbullying and harassment in schools.

The RSU 21 school board will host a follow-up informational session on this topic on March 4 at 7 p.m. at Kennebunk Elementary School. We have also added a function to our email system that provides immediate warning of at-risk behavior and/or self-harm based upon the presence of certain words. This allows us to address concerns with students and families immediately.

To that end, we now have school counselors, full-time nurses, and are on-boarding school resource officers in each of our six schools. These professionals form a multidisciplinary team to monitor and support students who may be at-risk socially or emotionally.

Schools are a microcosm of our society. School violence, self-harm, suicide and bullying are growing societal issues. Teaching our students and teachers to know the signs and report concerns will make a difference. Mobilizing our entire community will make a change.

Sandy Hook Promise is a bipartisan organization. In 10 years time, they will train 26 million students in Say Something. Much like other campaigns that have successfully changed our behavior as a society, including Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute, or the Arrive Alive Designated Driver movements, they seek to reverse the growing norm of gun violence, school shootings and suicide.

We believe they can do it. We believe we can do it. We believe that if anyone can do it, our children can. It may, in fact, be the most important thing we teach our children to do.

Kathryn Hawes is supertendent of schools for Regional School Unit 21.

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