Schoolwide systems of support, especially in today’s climate of potential school emergencies, have become an important issue for campus communities. Bullying contributes to episodes of violence on most campuses, regardless of the types of violence, and providing proactive methods of support for all staff and students, which make all stakeholders feel like valued members of the learning community, have been shown to develop campuses where violent episodes are less likely and less life-threatening when they do occur. Less violence of physical and verbal natures allows administrators and teachers to develop strong cultures of learning where “students receive a continual message that nothing is as important--or as engaging--as learning” (Bambrick-Santoyo & Peiser, 2012, p. 164). A school culture focused on learning will already help students proactively keep their focus away from both physical and verbal violence, especially if part of their curriculum approaches historical and fictional nonviolent practices.
My previous district in New Mexico implemented a safe schools program in 2006, over a decade before most Colorado districts changed to safe school programs. Their decision followed the hostage crisis in Bailey, Colorado, which inspired significant discussions across the nation, but changed little policy about actual safety in schools. The incident in Bailey, Colorado, resulted because several people saw a suspicious man, but did not report the man to proper authorities (Alfano, 2006). He overtook a classroom of students, held four female students, assaulted them, and killed two of them before killing himself when police began to break down the door of the classroom (Illescas, 2006). His behavior leading up to the incident was also troubling (gun collecting, ammunition collecting, and indicative of suicide). This incident inspired Northern New Mexico to invite police officers to place SRO staff members in their schools for the first time to ensure a police presence on campuses before incidents began as part of safe schools (Mettler, 2016); when I moved to Farmington, New Mexico, I felt safer because I had an SRO on my campus for the first time. The students agreed that having a police officer on campus, who they could tell their concerns, made them feel safer. Our SRO staff members stopped 623 threats of life in 2014 alone by being informed ahead of time by either staff or students so they could prevent incidents through the safe schools and safe-to-tell program in Farmington, New Mexico (Harris, 2014).
My current campus has just begun the No Bully program under a federal grant to train teachers, students, and administrators about developing a culture of safe schools in Pueblo, Colorado. These trainings have not effectively changed the climate or culture in our schools. I recently witnessed a harassment incident in my classroom during which a male student called a female student an “ugly, Asian boy.” I immediately wrote the boy up for harassment because the female student is a lesbian, a Latina, and because his behavior was legal harassment of a protected group. I also verbally addressed his behavior immediately as harassment, which would not be tolerated or repeated in my presence ever again. What was most upsetting about this incident was that the female student came back to thank me because I “actually did something about it. The other teachers just ignore it.” I doubt ALL the other teachers ignore this type of behavior, but this student’s experience is that for her, they do. Obviously, the trainings are not working, yet.
Any initiative takes time to enact true change. I moved to Farmington, New Mexico in 2009 when that district had undergone three full years of trainings to implement their safe schools program. Hopefully, Pueblo will see effective change by 2021 with their No Bully program so students from all backgrounds and genders will find tolerance in the public schools of our community.