Strong Communities Create Safer Schools. How Can We Build Them?

Amidst rising national violence statistics, what role do school communities play in helping to keep students safe and emotionally well?

Students across the country can feel the impact of elevated violent crime in their communities. According to the FBI’s 2020 Uniform Crime Report, the number of violent crimes increased year over year for the first time since 2016, and it’s even higher in 2021. What does this mean for our schools, and the students, educators, and families that attend, work within, and support them? Dr. Joris M Ray, Superintendent of Shelby County Schools, knows the answer requires action.

Following the injury of students in an off-campus shooting between adults, Dr. Ray shared an open letter with parents that reads “Before children can learn, they must first feel SAFE.” “we (Shelby County Schools) are ramping up our resources to keep our schools safe and are offering more mental health services.” He went on, “We have invested nearly 100 million dollars in social-emotional learning and conflict-resolution curriculum”, “we are here to educate and support our students.”.

Mental health professionals say that community violence has far-reaching ramifications, even among those that are not directly impacted. The same is true for other traumatic disruptions often experienced by school communities, including suicides, substance use, bullying incidents, and physical or emotional abuse. Angela Hodges, a Brewster Elementary School counselor shared that “sometimes parents have called us and say this happened in our neighborhood. Check on these students. I saw this on the news, what are you guys doing about that?”. Shelby County Schools answer? Invest in, train for, and promote the creation of stronger, healthier school communities that help students feel and stay safe.

Dr. Angela Hargrave, SCS’s executive director of the Student Equity Enrollment and Discipline program (SEED) said “we have made sure all of our staff has an understanding of adverse childhood experiences and how they impact students and even how they respond, how to recognize signs,”. “We do have a program called Rethink Ed. Rethink Ed is a district-wide initiative that every week there is a different lesson, and those lessons aren’t just taught by the school counselors, behavior specialists, and social workers. They’re taught by teachers.”. She went on, “When we are able to help students manage their emotions, process information in a better way, and build better relationships, now you’re talking about stronger communities,”.

By providing social emotional skill-building curriculum for students, training educators on spotting mental health needs, and connecting and communicating with parents on the work they can continue to do at home, Dr. Ray has set an intentional course for empowering his school communities to foster safe, nurturing environments where every student can thrive.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial that school communities prioritize this work of strengthening their communication channels, filling their educator’s tool-belts, and partnering with social emotional wellness solutions like Rethink Ed that can supply critical expert-informed information on coping with trauma, reducing suicide risks, identifying mental health needs, and many other in-demand topics. We at Rethink Ed are honored to be working alongside incredible folks like Dr. Ray, Dr. Hargrave, and Counselor Hodges towards making schools a safer, more beneficial environment for every student through the strengthening of whole school communities.