Bullying has harmful effects on students involved and the school environment at large. Not only does bullying compromise the school climate, an important factor in student engagement and success, but students directly involved are at increased risk for psychological and physical issues that can have life-long impacts. The best bullying prevention strategies bring school and community stakeholders together to build relationships and educate one another in a collaborative environment.
According to research regarding student victimization, schools remain safe spaces for most children, however, problems do remain. Many schools take measures to increase safety by installing surveillance cameras and metal detectors, along with hiring law enforcement personnel to work alongside educators. While these efforts can be effective, a growing body of research suggests that preventive actions—such as using interventions to target youth with elevated risk factors—can further enhance safety.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder and even more show signs of depression. Educators also struggle with mental health, with recent surveys suggesting half or more describe themselves as under high levels of stress and in a “not good” mental health condition. By focusing a lens on mental health, schools can support and promote the safety of all members of the school community through new initiatives and fresh perspectives on existing practices.
Use of cigarettes, drugs and alcohol have decreased in recent years. However, new challenges keep parents, educators, and policy makers on their toes including the rise of e-cigarette use and concerns about prescription drug abuse. Evidence indicates that creating and delivering successful interventions requires considering a variety of nuanced factors, both risk and protective, and carefully targeting both audience and setting.
For U.S. youth today, personal information gathering and sharing happens in cyberspace. The ease of internet accessibility combined with teens’ continuous online presence have created a new environment for youth victimization by adults and peers making online safety an increasingly growing concern. Students need careful and effective guidance to understand the risks and benefits of using these technologies and how to do so safely.
Districts and campuses must take preventive actions to successfully fulfill their primary mission, providing a safe educational space for all students. Texas Education Code (TEC §37.108) requires each district have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) that addresses prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. This process directs schools’ attention to the safety and security needs of their facilities.
School-Based Law Enforcement
The responsibilities of SROs vary from campus to campus and are subject to a host of influences. It is critical to remember that the role of school-based law enforcement officer is not universally defined and can vary greatly depending on the needs and expectations of the school. Alongside this variation in expectations exists a range of factors that determine an officer’s effectiveness in helping build a safe learning space, factors that are still being explored through research about student outcomes.
By engaging youth as leaders, we teach them important skills in community service and democratic citizenship while improving life skills and academic achievement. Adults can play a key role in fostering youth leadership development by building relationships and granting students autonomy and independence, while remaining respectful of them and attentive to their experiences. The Texas School Safety Center supervises several youth groups built on a foundation of leadership and engagement including the Teen School Safety Alliance, the Texas Teen Ambassadors, the Texas Say What! Youth Engagement Movement, and the Texas Youth Preparedness Initiative.