What’s BEST for schools?
Did you know 160,000 students miss school every day in the United States because of bullying and threats of intimidation?
Or would it surprise you to find out two-thirds of school shooters interviewed by the U.S. Secret Service were teased and bullied in their school careers?
Both facts are included in the research document “School Safety Issues and Prevention Strategies: The Changing Landscape of What We Know.” It was written by Hill M. Walker, co-director of the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior (IVDB) at the University of Oregon.
On September 24-25, Kern County educators were introduced to a program developed by the institute called BEST (Building Effective Schools Together). The stated objectives of BEST are to identify the underlying causes of youth violence, focus on prevention through early intervention and initiate programs and curricula to prevent youth violence in schools and in the community.
A California State Improvement Grant provided funding to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office (KCSOS) making it possible for 50 educators from school sites throughout the county to attend the two-day session at University Square in Bakersfield. Principals, vice principals and school staff came from as far away as Boron, California City, Delano, Lost Hills, Maricopa and Taft.
“It says a lot about how committed the schools are to keeping their sites safe for learning that the principals and vice principals attended,” said Daryl Thiesen, prevention programs coordinator. “By endorsing the programs, they take the lead in implementing them at their school sites.”
Conducting the workshop was Ronald Williams, an IVDB staff development specialist. He has seen the positive effects of the training.
“Nationally, we have seen about a 70 percent reduction in office referrals and a 20 percent drop in school disturbances related to behavioral problems,” Williams said. “What we are teaching is not rocket science. What is put in place are programs that have worked in other schools. We are concentrating on getting at-risk students back in school, keeping them there and keeping them from having to go into alternative education. What we have to concentrate on is not changing Johnny but changing the school or the environment that is making Johnny fail.”
Participants took part in several exercises identifying and defining possible solutions to problems specific to their school sites. In addition, Thiesen, KCSOS Beginning Teacher Consortium Coordinator Ann Georgian and Migrant Education Program Coordinator Philomena Hall are being trained as trainers who will be available to support schools in carrying out the programs.
“We will be focusing on data collection, school discipline, classroom management, improved academic achievement, and a reduction in the number of referrals, suspensions and expulsions,” Thiesen said.
Williams said the success of each program depends on five variables: “(1) All levels of school staff need to be involved, (2) the principal needs to endorse and lead the program, (3) it needs to be a program that is for all students, (4) parents need to be involved and (5) there needs to be a realistic way to measure improvement that allows the school to move quickly to get back on track.”
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