Involving Students In Your Safety Efforts
- By Michael Dorn
- August 1st, 2001
More than a decade ago, a school superintendent created a community based task force to address growing concerns of school safety. He wisely made sure that students from each high and middle school served on the task force.
In one work session, the discussion topic was how metal detectors might play a part in reducing the district’s significant and growing problem with student weapons violations. Evaluation demonstrated that entry point metal detection would cost the district more than $500,000 per building each year and would still provide limited protection due to the frequent need for students to change classes between different buildings each day. It was at that point that a student on the task force came up with a viable solution — a random metal detection program. As a result of the student’s input combined with other measures, the district was able to reduce weapons violations by more than 90 percent.
By using his idea, the district has also saved more than $50 million on weapons screening over the past decade. As an added benefit, hundreds of schools across the nation now have seen the demonstrated success of the program, and have implemented the concept first suggested by the student to create a safer learning environment. These are powerful results for the seemingly simple step of involving students in making their schools safer. Schools across the nation have found students to be a valuable asset in developing meaningful strategies to the complex school safety problems they face.
The legislature in the student’s home state has not only recognized the value of student input, they have made such participation a legal requirement. When Georgia Governor Roy E. Barnes signed Senate Bill 74 into law two years ago, student participation in the development of school safety plans became mandatory for Georgia public Schools. While private schools are not mandated to do so, many have also used the same approach. One private institution saw direct benefit when a particularly gifted student was able to create school safety software for their emergency operations plan saving the school thousands of dollars. In many communities, the power of students to help has remained untapped. The time has come for students to provide input in the means used to safeguard them.
Students can often provide insight that is different from that of adults. They can sometimes spot flawed ideas and help to avoid wasting precious funds. Surveys of students have helped school officials detect problems that needed to be addressed. These surveys can help to make sure that efforts are being focused on the most pressing problem areas. In other cases, their input has helped to prevent embarrassment when school officials were prepared to implement ideas that would have been doomed to failure. Often, students can come up with excellent ideas to help solve seemingly insurmountable problems.
Surprisingly, students have often helped to build support for measures or programs when we might expect significant resistance. Student have helped to sell measures such as dress code, identification badges and weapons screening programs when they have been allowed to help develop them and were provided information to show that the measures were reasonable and necessary.
Schools can draw on students for assistance in other, more direct ways as well. Peer mediation programs, teen courts and other programs that allow students to help solve problems involving their peers have proven to be very successful around the nation. In some areas, teen courts have a significantly lower recidivism rate than traditional juvenile court systems. These programs also provide an excellent opportunity for students who serve as volunteers to gain valuable experience.
One national program for students to help make their schools safer has been growing rapidly in recent years. Students Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.) is a student-initiated program to promote nonviolence. Developed by students for students, S.A.V.E. now has chapters in 35 states with more than 80,000 student members. This organization provides a structured means for students to work cooperatively with school and law enforcement officials to improve school climate. S.A.V.E. can be implemented as a curriculum at the elementary level, or in the form of a club at the middle and high school level. Visit the S.A.V.E. web site at to see if a chapter might help you help your students.
There are success stories from around the country. Students can be tremendous assets to school safety efforts. Our youth possess creativity, interest and the boundless energy that can help address the concerns that we all share for the safety of our children and those who dedicate their lives to educating them. Isn’t it about time that we gave our kids a chance to help?
Michael S. Dorn is the School Safety Specialist for the Office of the Governor — Georgia Emergency Management Agency. He is one of the nation’s top school safety experts. His next book, School/Law Enforcement Partnerships: A Guide to Police Work in Schools, is due for publication this summer.
Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.