School counselors and psychologist also have a handful of programs to prevent problems before they happen, as well as traditional intervention strategies, like peer mediation and group counseling, for once problems do arise.
Social-emotional safety is an important focus, especially in the middle and high schools, said DeVito. The district partners with community groups to provide mentoring and anti-drug programs for older students. In both the middle school, teachers meet weekly with counselors to discuss at-risk students, and then those students identified as at-risk may meet with a dean to discuss problems, or attend a lunch group conducted by counselors and social workers.
At the high school level, DeVito said that building administrators found that the most prevalent disciplinary and violent incidents occurred within the ninth-grade class. Moving from middle school to high school can be a difficult transition, so they decided to focus extra attention on that group. The ninth grade staff meets twice a week to discuss at-risk students, and vice-principals and deans meet regularly with these at-risk students, DeVito explained.
However, school officials have found that social-emotional safety is also an area that needs improvement, said DeVito. In a climate survey given to students, parents and school personnel last year, participants were asked areas in which they felt the school excelled, and where they needed more work. Both students and parents reported that they felt there was excellent social support from adults and safety rules were in place and well enforced. However, they also identified that a sense of both physical and social-emotional security was lacking in school.
“It’s student-to-student,” said DeVito. “They are not feeling safe vis-à-vis their fellow students.”
Among students, there is a feeling that there is a teasing and bullying problem in school, said DeVito. As a result of this survey, principals will be following up on a building level, to find what needs to be done at their specific schools to address the issue.