District talks tactics to engage ‘kids on the outer circle’

Survey finds more than 16% of middle, high school students feel unsafe

Posted 9/17/19

Since 2018-2019 data came back for the school district’s Make Your Voice Heard Survey — with 20.4% of middle schoolers and 16.3% of high schoolers saying they do not feel safe at school — …

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District talks tactics to engage ‘kids on the outer circle’

Survey finds more than 16% of middle, high school students feel unsafe

Posted

Since 2018-2019 data came back for the school district’s Make Your Voice Heard Survey — with 20.4% of middle schoolers and 16.3% of high schoolers saying they do not feel safe at school — district staff have aimed to continue bolstering school safety.

“The events occurring around this country are having an impact on how our kids and staff are feeling,” said John McDonald, executive director of Safety Security and Emergency Management. As a result, “it’s going to be a big lift to keep” even the percentages the district saw this year, he said.

MORE: Jeffco students speak in school threat aftermath

At the Sept. 5 school board meeting, McDonald and his colleagues provided an update on school safety goals, which state the district not only seeks to maintain the above percentages, but increase them. By 2022, the district aims for at least 90% of all students to say they feel safe on the Make Your Voice Heard Survey.

Additionally, the district has set a goal for 95% of educators to feel their school is safe on the Teaching & Learning Conditions Colorado (TLCC) survey. For 2019, that number was 90.3%.

Safety strategies

To meet its goals, the district has been using recommendations of the School Safety Task Force.

One notable recommendation has been the Middle School Campus Security Program, McDonald said. Through the program, both Carmody and Creighton middle schools have received additional campus supervisors to engage with students on a regular basis.

The district would like to implement the program in every Jeffco middle school within the next two years, said Jeff Pierson, director of Safe School Environments.

The team highlighted several other successes during its presentation, including improved preparation of administrators. This year, safety specialists provided the district’s yearly safety information to groups of about 30 administrators at a time, instead of the bigger groups of previous years, to make safety presentations more engagement-based as opposed to lecture-based.

“The feedback we got was great,” Pierson said, with administrators saying they felt “better prepared with the right information.”

McDonald and Pierson also highlighted the district’s School Nurse Response Team, through which 33 school nurses have learned safety tactics from first responders — a program which McDonald says has attracted national recognition as other districts call to do the same.

Surge in Safe2Tell reports

McDonald and Pierson said these safety changes have already had an effect on student perceptions of school safety, and it’s showed in the year’s Safe2Tell data. Safe2Tell is a website and tip line through which students can anonymously report safety concerns, which are then addressed by both the school and law enforcement.

There were 2,396 Safe2Tell reports in Jeffco last year, as opposed to five years ago, when there were less than 800 reports, McDonald said. For 2018-2019, the most common type of Safe2Tell submission were student reports that they or a classmate was at risk for suicide, with 388 reports in the suicide threat category.

The upticks represent that the district has more students “in crisis than we’ve ever seen,” McDonald said. But it also shows “our kids believe that we’ll respond and help them when they’re in crisis, and we certainly will.”

While personnel believe these increases partially stem from new programming, the gains also reflect statewide trends. August 2019 marked a new record for total Safe2Tell reports, with 1,503 tips coming in statewide, which is a 75% increase from August 2018, according to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

“These growth statistics are a testament to the effectiveness of statewide training and awareness efforts as well as the support Safe2Tell receives from our school, law enforcement, and mental health partners,” said Safe2Tell program director Essi Ellis.

But even amidst a celebration that students are relying more on school officials and law enforcement, board member Susan Harmon called on the district to address the “upsetting” number of suicide threats in the district.

The team said that a more in-depth presentation on the social-emotional health of students, and tactics to improve school cultures, will occur at a future meeting.

In the meantime, Pierson said he and his colleagues have been meeting with student groups to hear more about what would make them feel safe at school.

Additionally, they have met individually with school principals to strategize on engaging students who feel they do not belong in the school, he said.

“The number one (contributor to students’ safety) is having a trusting, caring adult in those schools,” Pierson said. “We’ve pushed (principals) to rethink how you teach teachers to engage. Rethink how you engage kids on the outer circle.”

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