Every day, almost 6,000 students come to Ukiah Unified schools, from young children just out of preschool to young adults about to graduate from high school. Although our goal is to educate each and every one of them, our first responsibility is to keep them all safe.
To learn more about the most effective ways to keep students safe, I went straight to the source; I asked middle school and high school students about what we, as a district, do well and what we need to improve. Students spend at least six hours a day on our campuses and we have a lot to learn by listening to their perspectives. Our students shared their ideas about safety, campus culture, and so much more.
School Activities/Campus Culture
They talked in depth and with obvious pride about how they engage with their peers on campus. They highlighted student clubs, academic competitions, sports, dances, rallies, peer counseling, student-to-student mentoring programs and many more events and activities. They recognize the work they do affects the student experience on campus and contributes to a positive campus culture.
They also shared their views on the power of having an adult who cares about them and supports them. They mentioned parents, grandparents, family friends, bus drivers, custodians, teachers, community coaches, pastors, and so many others—individuals who made an essential difference for them. Students said things like “He never gave up on me” and “She helped me believe in myself” and “He pushed me to do my best.” Our students recognize the importance of an adult mentor, one who is there for them no matter what.
Students were particularly articulate and thoughtful when they described how much they value our programs to support social-emotional learning and well-being, repeatedly praising the work of our school counselors. Even though we’ve added nine school counselors during the last three years, students and staff agree they still want more. Students tell us they love it when their counselors check in with them, not necessarily about academic progress, but about how they are doing personally; and that they think stronger mental health supports at an early age will enhance campus safety.
Trust in Law Enforcement
Our students also talked about their appreciation for our school resource officers (SROs), and the way the officers have developed relationships with students on campus. They said having a trusting relationship with a police officer on campus makes it easier to report things that make them uncomfortable or worried. As you probably know, it is well established that early reporting is critical to campus safety.
When students talked about the safety of the campus itself, they asked for more security cameras and less open access to the campuses. They also wished that parents would drive more safely around the campuses—stopping for pedestrians, slowing down in parking lots and not parking in red zones. I can understand why this bothers them so much. As they’re trying to get safely to their own ride, they have to dodge cars and hope they’ll stop in time.
One of the most difficult topics was how hurtful social media can be. While social media can be a wonderful way to connect with family and friends, it can also be a platform for bullying, exclusion, and misinformation. When social media is used to spread rumors, it can increase anxiety and decrease our students’ sense of safety and well-being.
Finally, our students emphasized their desire to be prepared for emergencies. They wanted to know what they’re supposed to do in the event of a natural disaster, active shooter situation, or other dangerous scenarios. They had many excellent suggestions about how to respond to emergencies on campus.
While I had considered many of the issues above, hearing our students’ opinions, concerns, and recommendations was both affirming (they’re doing great things and have great ideas) and heartbreaking (that they must think about cyber-bullying and active shooter situations). In my work on a statewide task force to address violent crime on school campuses, I will use our students’ insights and recommendations to do my best to make our schools safer.