Trends in Education

The Sign of Our Times

safe school environments

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Children are our future. This oft-used phrase is proven again and again by the value that our society places on its educational facilities. Yet, just as our schools are a reflection of our hopes for what is to come, they are also a response to the challenges of the present. The nuclear arms race of the 1950s gave birth to thickly reinforced schools that were as much bomb shelter as building. The energy crisis of the 1970s led to a multi-year embargo on exterior windows. Tornados and hurricanes have driven schools underground and raised schools 20 feet above grade. Now, in 2016, our common anxiety and challenge is clear — school safety.

The days when our children could ride their bikes to and from school are gone. Our evolving culture and circumstances demands added security at educational facilities. There are those who say that no matter what we do, bad people will always be able to infiltrate our schools. In simple terms, that is not true. We could design our facilities with the same features that are utilized for prisons. We could build walls around the campus, have armed guards at the points of entry, put bars on the windows and search every person who enters the building.

So why don’t we do that? The simple answer is that we cannot forsake our hope for the future to alleviate our anxieties about the present. Research has shown that parent involvement is key to students’ success during their formative years. If we make it extremely difficult for parents and guardians to participate in their child’s education, how much would we hinder that child’s ability to succeed in the classroom? Granted, many children are self-motivated and will strive to do the very best they possibly can, but many students strive for success out of respect for their parents. That is a good thing. This connection becomes even more prevalent when facilities allow for student-parent participation, interaction and engagement.

So, rather than create schools like prisons, we, as designers, have tried to develop safer environments without the loss of the family and community connection. We have put programs and systems in place that deter bad things from happening. Granted, the things we do cannot prevent or stop all violence, but they can create facilities in which students and parents can call home for a good part of each day.

Remember, schools are supposed to be the safest place available, other than being at home. In fact, for some students, the school is safer than the home. Parents need to know that their children are in good hands for the better part of every day; they entrust us with protecting their kids. For this reason alone, we must continue to be diligent about protecting our students, as much as reasonably possible, while still providing a quality education for future generations.

So, the next time someone says, “my school is not safe,” go the extra mile and find out why they believe that is the case. Is the comment the perception of that one individual or is it the consensus of the entire community? Regardless, we owe it to the taxpayers of the community to ensure maximum efforts are made to provide a safe environment. Without a safe environment, instruction will be difficult and ineffective. The absolute best safety program involves the commitment of staff and students to create a campus culture that safeguards against tragedy. It is the responsibility of each of us to create an environment conducive to better learning, now and for years to come.

Trends in Education

School Planning & Management asked experts who are involved in various education-related fields to talk about what is happening in regard to K-12 education and what they expect in the near future. The following are their thoughts on the topics of planning, design, architecture, legislation, energy management, and safety and security.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Scott Layne, ALEP, is the chair of the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE) and serves as assistant superintendent of Support Services at Irving Independent School District, Irving, Texas.

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