Fostering a culture of connectedness is an important aspect of school safety. Studies and reports indicate that prior to a school shooting incident, many alleged shooters experienced feelings of isolation, depression, and detachment. The National School Climate Center reports that school climate and an effective school climate process are important because a positive school climate can serve as a protective factor that supports positive life outcomes for young people. It can also result in improved safety at school with a dramatic decrease in risky behaviors; lower rates of student suspension and discipline issues in general; and result in physical, social, and emotional benefits.

School Climate Resources

School counselors are vital resources in preventing violent incidents, intervening when concerns arise about potential violence and responding when violence occurs. Through the implementation of a comprehensive school counseling program, school counselors promote school safety, assist students engaging in unhealthy or unsafe behaviors and make referrals as needed. School counselors are familiar with the school community and knowledgeable about the roles of community mental health providers and first responders such as law enforcement officials and emergency medical responders.

In addition, school counselors are required by WVBE Policy 2315 to coordinate the school’s mental health crisis response plan. School counselors help with the mitigation of stressors in students and staff and play a significant leadership role especially in the coordination of mental health crisis response and the immediate aftermath of a crisis or act of school violence. Trained in crisis response intervention models, school counselors serve as integral members of a school’s response team in collaboration with administrators and other school staff members.

Safe school and crisis response literature suggest several important crisis prevention and response preparedness practices in which school counselors should engage, including:

  • individual and group counseling advocacy for student safety
  • interventions for students at risk of dropping out or harming self or others
  • peer mediation training, conflict resolution programs and anti-bullying programs
  • support of student-initiated programs such as Students Against Violence Everywhere
  • family, faculty and staff education programs
  • facilitation of open communication between students and caring adults
  • defusing critical incidents and providing related stress debriefing
  • district and school response team planning and practices
  • partnering with community resources

Resources:

Improving school safety cannot focus solely on alleviating incidents of violence. Successful efforts must improve the culture in which students live and learn. This includes devel­oping students of strong character who are looking to the future and are connected in meaningful ways to their peers, educators and communities.

WV Standards for Student Success

The WV Standards for Student Success describe the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and dispositions all students shall develop in relation to personal and social development, academic and learning development, career and life planning, and global citizenship. They are critical to the holistic development of all students and require integration into all aspects of each student’s educational experience utilizing a variety of delivery modalities.

Free Lessons for Student Success

  • Everfi (K – 12th): Free digital lessons focused on topics like health and wellness, social skills and character education, and academic areas.
  • Kids.gov (4th – 6th): Government Jobs lesson plans
  • Career One Stop (9th-12th):– Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor
  • myStrategic Compass (6th – 12th): College and Career Exploration and planning. (funded by WVDE CTE & Governor’s Economic Initiatives). For information about creating an account for your school, contact Nicole Stanley nstanley@winlearning.com).

Additional lessons and resources are being identified and developed and will be added to the WVDE website as they become available.

The goal of PBIS is to improve safe and supportive school environments which meet the physical, social, emotional and academic needs of every child. Decreasing aggressive conduct and bullying can occur through improving culture and climate, building relationships with students and staff, changing academic outcomes and increasing prosocial behaviors. For more information about getting started with PBIS at your school, please visit http://wvpbis.org/.

School mental health services are essential to creating and sustaining safe schools. Increased access to mental health services and supports in schools is vital to improving the physical and psychological safety of our students and schools, as well as academic performance and problem-solving skills. School mental health supports that encompass social–emotional learning, mental wellness, resilience, and positive connections between students and adults are essential to creating a school culture in which students feel safe and empowered to report safety concerns, which is proven to be among the most effective school safety strategies. Additionally, in the aftermath of a crisis, school-employed mental health professionals provide supports that facilitate a return to normalcy, are sustainable, and can help to identify and work with students with more intense or ongoing needs.

Seventy-five percent of students struggling with mental illness do not receive mental health services, and mental health is a key component in students’ healthy development and academic achievement. Increasingly, school systems are joining forces with community health, mental health, and social service agencies to promote student well-being and to prevent and treat mental health disorders. Through these collaborations, schools and local agencies are working together to address the growing health, behavioral, and mental health needs of students.

Implementing School Mental Health Services in WV Schools

  • The WV Expanded School Mental Health Model is composed of a continuum of services representing systems of prevention, early intervention, and intensive interventions with resources from the school and community pooled to produce integrated programs at all three levels.
  • Request support to start school-based mental health services by contacting Tiffany Pittman, WV School Health Technical Assistance Center, at pittman6@marshall.edu.

WV Comprehensive Behavioral Health Centers Directory

This comprehensive directory provides county information about for county behavioral health offices, crisis services, and other services available throughout WV.

A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools

This joint statement provides a framework supported by educators for improving school safety and increasing access to mental health supports for children and youth.

Project AWARE: Youth Mental Health First Aid

Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. Free training is available through the WV Project AWARE grant funding and a collaboration between the WVDE Office of Special Education and the WV Autism Training Center at Marshall University. Contact Dianna Bailey-Miller at baileymiller@marshall.edu or (304) 695-1155 to schedule a training in your county.

Handle With Care

If a law enforcement officer encounters a child during a call, that child’s name and three words, HANDLE WITH CARE, are forwarded to the school/child care agency before the school bell rings the next day. The school implements individual, class and whole school trauma-sensitive curricula so that traumatized children are “Handled With Care”. If a child needs more intervention, on-site trauma-focused mental healthcare is available at the school.

Trauma-Informed Schools

In a trauma-informed school, the adults in the school community are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress. Students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations. The goal is to not only provide tools to cope with extreme situations but to create an underlying culture of respect and support. A trauma-sensitive school provides a safe and respectful environment that enables students to build caring relationships with adults and peers, self-regulate their emotions and behaviors, and succeed academically, while supporting their physical health and well-being.

Common Ground

The Common Ground Speaker Series delivers a means for schools and school districts to request guest speaker visits from military service organizations in an effort to positively impact student success. These guest speakers provide information about a variety of identified series topics which include, but are not limited to, the following: promoting literacy, substance abuse prevention, anti-bullying, drop-out prevention, the American flag, and patriotic holidays or events.

If you are a school staff member and would like to request that a military service member speaker contact you for the purpose of providing information about identified series topics, please use the Speaker Series request website.

For information on Bullying Prevention, please visit this web page.

Schools are a key setting for suicide prevention. Teachers, mental health providers, and all other school personnel who interact with students can play an important role in keeping them safe. By passing House Bill 2535, West Virginia established requirements for that state’s middle and high schools to distribute and discuss suicide prevention awareness information to its students.

Resources

In response to HB 4402:

  • The requirement for children enrolled in grades Kindergarten through 12th grade in WV public schools to receive age-appropriate body safety information at least once during the academic year, with a preference for four times per academic year. This requirement will go into effect on July 1, 2019.
  • WVBE will develop resources as well as a list of minimum content standards which will be made available to schools.
  • WVBE will update Policy 4373, Expected Behavior in Safe and Supportive Schools, to include sexual abuse education and prevention training of public school employees.
  • WVBE will provide a list of minimum content standards for training requirements.
  • Counties will be responsible for administering a training to all public school employees every two years.
  • Online training resources, along with certificates of satisfactory completion will be developed and provided by the WVBE.

Schools can and should be safe havens for students, and even more so for some students whose lives are otherwise characterized by instability and lack of safety or security. In these cases, school personnel are uniquely well positioned to identify and report suspected abuse and connect students to services—actions that can prevent trafficking and even save lives. Everyone who is part of the school community—administrators, teachers, bus drivers, maintenance personnel, food service staff, resource officers, and other school community members—has the potential to be an advocate for child victims of human trafficking, but, first, school community members must learn the indicators of the crime, its warning signs, and how to respond when a student is an apparent victim.