By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director
By now you probably have the results of the most recent budget vote and I hope it was a success! One of the greatest investments a school district makes is in supporting the safety and social-emotional well-being of its students, which is the focus of this month’s CASDA newsletter. To support schools and districts with addressing the social-emotional needs of their students, CASDA held a kick-off event on May 20 for more than 20 educators to introduce its new Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum Service. If you need help in developing an SEL curriculum as required by ESSA regulation, we can assist with any phase of the process.
In an upcoming podcast I plan to address what will it take for our schools to be truly safe? Schools have come a long way in securing their buildings and preparing their staffs and students for emergency situations. However, there are other proactive measures to consider. We must ask some tough questions. Are our schools equitable regarding social emotional and physical safety? Are all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity or gender treated with empathy? Have we reviewed policy and practice for disparity, disproportionality in how certain children are treated in terms of responses to inappropriate behavior or access to academic opportunity?
Foundationally, we need to focus on fostering positive, supportive relationships; student to student, adult to student and adult to adult. Our efforts must go beyond canned programs and mental health clinics, though these services can be helpful. For example, the CDC offers an approach called The Social-Ecological Model: A Framework for Violence Prevention. In this model four interdependent social levels are identified: individual, relationship, community, and societal. Strategies for addressing the needs of the individual, for example, involve reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors at each of the other levels. We have provided a resource guide utilizing this framework detailing challenges and possible supports to help schools prevent violence and establish a positive culture.
The safety of our students is paramount, and we know that safety is more than a physical construct. Thomas Andriola, Chief of Policy and Implementation, Office of Youth Justice, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, and CASDA faculty member Brian Farr discussed the importance of building relationships and exhibiting empathy in this month’s CASDA EdCast podcast titled “Relationships and Empathy: The Foundation of Safe, Supportive Schools.” For schools to be truly safe places for all students, we must create conditions for positive relationships and emotional well-being. Many districts in the region have launched initiatives to cultivate trauma-sensitive schools. In their conversation, Tom and Brian consider the importance of adults learning to process their own trauma so that they can create supportive, trauma-sensitive environments for students.
Finally, Hanover Research has also provided a research brief for our members this month titled, “Best Practices in Evaluating and Improving School Climate.” One of the key findings offered refers to the National School Climate Center four essential dimensions of school climate: safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships, and institutional environment. Students perceptions of school climate directly relate to their feeling of safety. How do schools measure student perceptions of school climate? Check out Section II of the research brief, “Evaluating School Climate.” Use the data you collect to better understand if your school is inclusive, culturally sensitive and welcoming for all students. Not one child’s experience can be deemed less important than another’s if we are truly going to make our schools safe.