Violence has become part of the fabric of our society. It is pervasive on television, in sports, music, video games, and even in our schools and workplaces. Schools are no longer safe havens for children. The Educational Development Center (1996) found that only half of the children felt safe in school. Approximately 160,000 students per day miss school because they fear physical harm (Educational Development Center, 1996). Students cannot learn in an unsafe environment. A welcoming environment is particularly important for those students who are struggling in school and need extra support.
Safe Learning Environments Are Needed
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) gathered statistics for the 1999-2000 school year and reported:
- approximately 5,000 instances of rape or other types of sexual battery;
- about 12,000 incidents of physical attacks or fights involving weapons;
- around 23,000 robberies;
- approximately 806,000 fights or physical attacks not involving weapons;
- about 218,000 thefts; and
- around 211, 000 acts of vandalism (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).
It is important that social and behavior problems be identified in the lower elementary grades. Antisocial and aggressive behaviors are strong predictors for dropping out of school. Early intervention is important to head of future problems (Duttweiler and Smink, 1997). It’s obvious that violence prevention and conflict resolution are important for all students, not just those at-risk of dropping out. A comprehensive safe school plan is vital to the well-being of the students. Approximately 30 states have passed legislation recommending that every school develop a safe school plan. The No Child Left Behind Act provides for identifying and labeling “persistently dangerous” schools. Students in these schools have the option of transferring to a safe school within their district.
What Is A Safe Learning Environment?
It is difficult to create a balance between a safe school and a welcoming, caring environment. It is important to create a school climate that does not tolerate bullying, intimidation, and terrorism. Students who are afraid often stay away from school. A safe learning environment is focused on academic achievement, maintaining high standards, fostering positive relationships between staff and students, and encouraging parental and community involvement.
Resolving conflict and preventing violence are important factors in creating a safe learning environment. Students respond to conflict by confronting it, usually in a violent manner, or avoiding it. Neither of these responses helps them to learn how to deal with conflict in an appropriate way. Students need to learn effective interpersonal skills to cope in group situations (Hamby, 1999). It is important for students to know how to deescalate conflict, manage it, and resolve it (Schargel & Smink, 2001).
Safe school planning is an ongoing, comprehensive process which should involve the entire community. The plan should cover behavioral and property aspects of crime prevention. There are seven basic steps in the planning process:
- Identify your safe school planning committee members;
- Assess data on school crime;
- Identify school safety strategies and programs;
- Ensure that school procedures comply with existing laws related to schools;
- Hold a public meeting before your school adopts the plan;
- Make the plan available for public review; and
- Amend the plan once a year, as needed (Stephens, 2004, p. 80).
For students to learn, they must attend school. A welcoming and accepting environment motivates students to attend school. Research has shown that school violence also has an impact on the community. Forty percent of boys identified as bullies had three or more convictions by age 24 (Fight Crime, 2003, p. 5).
Impact of Safe Learning Environments
Anti-bullying and anti-aggression programs have proven to be effective in reducing misbehavior, vandalism and general delinquency (Fight Crime, 2003). Students dropout of school for many reasons, but violence and conflict are contributing factors to placing students at-risk.
Duttweiler, P. C., & Smink, J. (1997). Critical strategies for effective dropout prevention. School Safety Journal, 4-9.
Educational Development Center, Inc. (1996, May). Schools and violence. National Network of Violence Prevention Practitioners Fact Sheet, Vol. 1, No. 3. Washington, DC: Author.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Bullying prevention is crime prevention. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved Sept. 22, 2003, from:www.fightcrime.org/reports/BullyingReport.pdf.
Hamby, J. V. (1999). Developing a comprehensive violence prevention plan: A practical guide. Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center/Network.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (1996-97). Violence and discipline problems in U.S. public schools. U.S. Department of Education.
Schargel, F. P., & Smink, J. (2001). Strategies to help solve our school dropout problem. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Stephens, R. D. (2004). Creating safe learning environments. In F. P. Schargel & J. Smink (Eds), Helping students graduate: A strategic approach to dropout prevention. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Talley, S. (1999). What does it take to reform a low-performing school? Office of Educational Research: National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students. Baltimore, MD.
U.S. Department of Education and Justice. (1998). Annual report on school safety. NCES 98-251/NCJ 172251. Washington, DC: Author.