Social Environment
7-01 - Healthy and safe social environment
 

Establish a safe, healthy social environment at school for students and staff. Each day provide each student with at least one meaningful and positive interaction with a staff person (or other adult). Have policies that are clearly understood by students, staff and families.

   
RATIONALE
 

A school environment that promotes 'pro-social' student behavior, has high expectations and standards for academic achievement and behavior, and engages students in positive relationships with adults will encourage successful learning and reduce negative, antisocial behaviors.

   
COMMENTARY
 

Students need environments with a clear structure and a sense of safety. When students feel afraid and unprotected, they often take matters into their own hands and display risky and dangerous behaviors as a means of self-protection. Provide an environment that allows students and staff an opportunity to express their feelings, fears, and anxieties about issues that concern them. Develop and fairly enforce rules for bullying, hazing, harassment, or discrimination with student, staff, and family input. Expectations and consequences must be adequately and properly publicized. Arrange for professionally trained staff and student leaders to monitor non-classroom areas (e.g., hallways, restrooms, lunch and recess) and provide social guidance and safety for all individuals.

A daily, meaningful and positive interaction with an adult at school who is capable of having positive expectations for each student's ability to succeed will help each student feel valued. Schools can achieve this in various ways. For example, schools may match each student to a counselor, teacher, administrator, coach or other adult to be their mentor. Some schools have adult volunteers who visit the school on a regular basis in order to read to, mentor, or tutor students. Positive interactions with adults need not be academic. Involve students in various decision making processes. Help students find opportunities in the community where they can engage in positive roles, perhaps as part of community service, recreation or other enrichment experiences. By having a range of non-academic activities at school (e.g., athletics, arts, special interest clubs, Reserve Officers Training Corps, vocational training), schools create excellent additional opportunities for students to feel successful and develop a sense of accomplishment. The development of positive self-esteem comes from a sense of being connected to valued people, places, and things; a sense of uniqueness.

A school's infrastructure can provide students with opportunities to learn and practice social skills, such as communication, problem solving, anger management, mediation, leadership, management and planning skills. Each student should have a sense of ownership, attachment, responsibility, and input into school life (e.g., school government, peer mediation, involvement of students in formal school committees and activities).

Emphasize acceptance, tolerance, respect, and enjoyment of what individual differences bring to a school and community, including staff and student differences in ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, culture and special needs. Communicate with parents for purposes of: recognition of student accomplishments, awareness of behavioral and emotional issues and stresses, and referrals to community resources (e.g., such as social services and those that address substance abuse, violence, or special needs).

   
 
7-02 - Social services, mental health support
 

Ensure that social services and mental health support are available to all students and staff in the school setting and integrate this support into other school programs.

   
RATIONALE
 

Staff and students who function well socially and emotionally are apt to perform better academically. Part of schools' educational mission is to promote social and emotional functioning as well as academic achievement.

   
COMMENTARY
 

Support for a student might include providing the student with additional counseling time with a member of the school health and safety team, steering a student to a staff-facilitated support group meeting with peers and assigning students whom are new to a school with a student ambassador or 'buddy'. When possible make services such as tutoring and mentoring available within the school setting. This may be provided by the school system or by trained persons invited into the school. Because there will always be a level of service that is unrealistic to provide within the school, having facilitated linkages to specialized services in the community is essential.

School programs and services that address mental health and psychosocial concerns are frequently not adequately integrated into schools' daily instructional efforts. Yet mental health promotion can be integrated successfully into many school programs. During daily classroom instruction and other school activities, students can be taught that both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors can stem from one's feelings. Once students understand this, many will be more likely to use introspection and subsequent verbalization strategies as substitutes to acting out or withdrawal. They may be more likely to seek help when they are troubled. Provide staff development so that staff members understand how to support students in this manner. Staff development in the area of developmental psychology will help staff form expectations of students that are appropriately adjusted to students' developmental stages. Integration can be improved by having members of the counseling, psychological, health, and social services staff communicate with classroom teachers and recess monitors, observe students during instruction and recreation, and assist staff with how they can respond to individual students and with the class as a whole. Such integration should be specified in the district's guiding principles (e.g., vision statement, policy statement, or school improvement plan). Staff need to recognize that they are role models for students at school.

   
 
7-03 - Recognition and referral of students under stress
 

Implement prevention programs that focus on recognition of stressful life situations and interventions to help students deal with these stresses.

   
RATIONALE
 

Early detection of the most common psychosocial and educational stresses can lead to fewer problems with learning and school performance when these issues are dealt with expediently at school. Engagement in high-risk behavior may be decreased if prevention programs are designed for early identification of and interventions for students needing support.

   
COMMENTARY
 

Research has identified a variety of commonplace educational and psychosocial problems and external stressors that interfere with students' learning and teachers' teaching.

A variety of problems affect the ability of many students to be successful in the classroom. Examples of stresses that affect achievement are: school adjustment difficulties, language problems, school and life transitions, substance and alcohol use and trauma. Social, interpersonal and family stresses also affect learning. They include recent loss, isolation, psychological reactions to sexual activity, concerns with sexual identity, abuse and neglect (physical, mental, and sexual), other forms of victimization, and exposure to various forms of violence, including witnessing or learning about a violent situation or suicide. Difficulties with learning or attention are also stressors.

School staff members are often in a position to learn of such life stresses that affect students soon after they occur. They may present to school staff as high risk behaviors (e.g., poor attendance, delinquency, gang-related activities, conduct and behavior problems). School staff can help assure that students who might need assistance are referred to school mental health professionals for further assessment. Some students may require referral outside of the school setting for additional assessment and/or intervention. Provide staff development so that all staff members are aware of the potential consequences of such stresses. Staff must also know where to refer students and how to approach a student who requires a referral. Appendix F lists stressors that are often associated with violence and suicide.

   
 
7-04 - Suicide prevention strategies
 

Actively prevent suicidal behavior by training staff and having programs that identify high-risk students and then link them to therapeutic and preventive community services.

   
RATIONALE
 

Early identification and intervention offer the potential of preventing suicide. School personnel are in an excellent position to identify students at risk for suicide and, as a result, need to know both what to look for and how to respond.

   
COMMENTARY
 

Students who have mental disorders (e.g., depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, substance abuse, conduct disorders), who have had a prior attempt of suicide, or who have been exposed to suicide behaviors have a heightened risk for suicide. Victimization, bullying, isolation, trauma, hopelessness, recent loss and having difficulty with issues of sexual identity are other risks for suicide. Teachers and other staff are well positioned to detect these risks and take action. School personnel must consider any talk about suicide a serious warning sign.

School protocols, when there is a suicide or attempted suicide, must focus on both the involved individual ( i.e., linkage to mental health services and monitoring of continued participation) and on the school population ( i.e., interventions to address stresses that are related to the exposure, identification of students at risk for copy behavior, and referrals, as necessary for evaluation and services.) Develop data collection and data analysis systems that provide for tracking cases, feedback to the school and the community and allow for evaluation of schools' prevention programs.

Appendix F and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines (14) describe factors indicative of increased risk for suicide, strategies that schools could adopt to prevent and confront these risks and methods of tracking incidents.

   
 
7-05 - Violence prevention strategies
 

Provide the following violence prevention and management services: (a) rules prohibiting violent and disrespectful behaviors; (b) protocols to deal with violent events; (c) links to mediation, mentoring, and therapeutic services; (d) strategies to identify students at high risk for engaging in violence; (e) staff education; and (f) evaluation of violence policies and programs.

   
RATIONALE
 

An environment that makes students feel safe will also reduce students' motivation to take matters into their own hands and prevent the escalation of aggressive behaviors. School policies, rules and resources aimed at violent behavior that are therapeutic, not simply punitive, diminish chances for long-term emotional, spiritual and physical sequelae. Linking students to assistance programs prevents criminalization of students with correctable difficulties.

   
COMMENTARY
 

A safe social environment provides many good role models for students and has opportunities for them to learn and enhance communication skills, problem-solving, and anger management. The physical environment can also be designed to be reassuring to students and reduce chances for violence. Provide adequate lighting and presence of adults (i.e., staff, parents, safety officers) in school hallways, rest rooms and playgrounds. Students need to feel that the environment is safe for them to communicate their needs. Culturally competent teachers are more likely to be good role models and more capable of communicating effectively. Guidelines on developing cultural competency are provided in Appendix B. Detailed school guidelines to prevent and manage violence are available (14, 20).

Categories of programs that have shown to be either effective or encouraging to reduce violence are: mentoring, tutoring students with academic difficulties, home visitation (particularly in elementary grades), parenting training and support, therapeutic foster care, and programs or curricula addressing bullying, conflict resolution, anger management, mediation and refusal skills. Peer mediation programs are often appropriate. Leadership skills, connectedness, and a sense of ownership and responsibility for aspects of school life can reduce violence (e.g., student government or peer mediation). Provide numerous venues where students can achieve success (e.g., athletics, arts, vocational training) and communicate that each student is expected to succeed. Develop data collection and analysis systems that provide for tracking cases, feedback to the school and the community, and allow for evaluation of prevention programs in the schools.

Labeling students based on race, socioeconomic status, gender, and similar general descriptors has a detrimental effect on academic performance as well as on social and emotional well-being. These demographic attributes should not be used to select students for participation in a violence prevention program. However, knowing risk factors for violence can help when working with an entire student population. While most students who have risk factors for violence do well (e.g., those exposed to violence at home early in life), most will benefit from the opportunity to address their issues. See Appendix F for lists of risk factors for violence, school preventive strategies and program evaluation methods.

   
 
7-06 - Adjustments to psychological trauma and loss
 

Make accommodations and/or adjustments for students during and after experiences of psychological trauma or loss.

   
RATIONALE
 

Students who are coping with trauma or loss bear a heavy burden and may have difficulty focusing on academic work until they have dealt with trauma or loss issues.

   
COMMENTARY
 

Surveys of adolescents who have suffered trauma or loss indicate that they perceived their teachers to be helpful when they adjusted expectations about deadlines, rescheduled examinations, or extended due dates. Teachers were perceived as not helpful when they told students to focus on their schoolwork following trauma or loss or drew unnecessary attention to the students.

Accommodations for a student might include the following: (a) allowing the student time out of the classroom to meet with the school counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker, (b) extending due dates for assignments and rescheduling examinations, (c) providing classroom discussion appropriate to the situation, and (d) acting discreetly, as necessary.

Take school-wide actions when many students share a sense of loss or of trauma. Make all students aware that doors are open for communication. Invite the school or district crisis team to the site so that they may identify strategies to help students who are experiencing loss. Be sure teachers have ready access to those strategies. Ensure that staff has easy access to lists of mental health resources in the school, district and community. Teachers and other staff coordinate their efforts as they identify and offer accommodations to students.

   
 
7-07 - Actions against bullying
 

Establish and enforce policies that prohibit bullying, hazing, teasing, harassment, and discrimination.

   
RATIONALE
 

Bullying, hazing, and discrimination are often precursors to escalated violent behavior and associated with psychosomatic problems and future psychiatric problems in certain persons. Prevention of bullying and discrimination provides for a more conducive learning environment for students and a safer environment for all.

   
COMMENTARY
 

Bullying is the repeated and deliberate use of aggression and power to cause physical pain and/or emotional distress. Bullying can be verbal, physical, unpleasant gestures, social coercion, social exclusion, or any combination of these. Although in most bullying situations at school, students are in the roles of bullies and victims, staff members can be bullies and victims of bullying as well. Physical appearance (including facial and dental appearance, obesity, short stature and racial characteristics), perceived sexual orientation, having a homosexual parent, and stuttering have been shown to be associated with victimization. Harassment of those with disabilities, including developmental delay, attention deficit disorders, and conduct disorders, and gender-based harassment (eg, sexual remarks) are not uncommon. Some approaches to dealing with bullying at school have shown promise. They deal with the victim and the bully as individuals as well as with system-wide programs. Internet resources listed below provide some useful strategies.

Have clearly understood, well-publicized, and universally enforced rules about bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Supervision is critically important as most bullying takes place when usual supervision is at its lowest. Identify high risk areas and particular times of the day when bullying is likely to occur. Spot checks can help deal with difficult staffing issues. When bullying occurs, aggressive and angry punishments may be ineffective responses. Instead, defuse the situation by immediately removing the victim and bully from the scene. Consider a policy whereby the bully must make amends for the distress that has been caused, perhaps through an apology (eg, public, face-to-face, written, a gift given to victim by the bully). Link the bully and the victim to social and health professional staff at school. Underlying emotional, mental health and social stresses may contribute to being a bully or a victim. Initiate assessment of such factors and follow this by referring students for further assessment and/or management, as necessary. Teaching victims new reaction skills (ie, demonstrating indifference, not being counter-aggressive and learning how to avoid an appearance of being helpless) may be helpful.

Consider programs that redirect aggressive behaviors of all students towards other activities. Sports and competitive games are examples. Alternatively activities that are incompatible with aggression, such as caring for plants or people, may also be tried. As empathetic support that victims receive from peers is as important as support received from adults, consider educating all students about peer support. Teach students to mentor, befriend and advocate for their bullied peers through group discussion, videos, drama, and role-play. Bystanders have the power to modify a bullying situation if they become active, rather than passive. This can generate skills, interest and willingness among students to intervene when bullying and harassment occur.

   
 
7-08 - Policies on student discipline
 

Utilize disciplinary actions that do not jeopardize students' physical health or safety, that do not harm emotional well-being, and do not discourage physical activity or other healthful behaviors. Prohibit use of food as a reward or punishment.

   
RATIONALE
 

Corporal punishment increases chances for violent behavior in susceptible youth. When suspended or expelled students are out of school, they are often exposed to safety and health risks. Denial of recess or forced physical activity (running laps, doing extra push-ups) as a disciplinary action can send a message that physical activity is a luxury or a punishment. Both can discourage enjoyment in life-long physical activity.

   
COMMENTARY
 

Acceptable forms of disciplinary actions include time out, staying after school, performing services, and reduction in grades. Unacceptable forms include verbal abuse, corporal punishment, and actions likely to humiliate students. When a student's actions threaten injury to the student or someone else, physical restraint is sometimes necessary. Schools can use incentives (or their withdrawal) as behavior management tools. Examples of incentives are: stars on a chart hung on classroom wall, extra free-time, extra recess, participation in special events (e.g., field trips), points students can use to purchase books or merchandise, student's name in the school newspaper, featuring a "student of the week", and choosing student to make public announcements.

Proponents of expulsion and suspension find that these actions not only punish students, but alert parents and protect other students and school staff. But there are unintended health, mental health, and safety consequences. Suspension and expulsion are often reserved for students who use illicit substances, commit crimes, disobey rules, and threaten violence. These students are most likely to be victims of abuse or to be depressed or otherwise mentally ill. For students with major home-life stresses, suspension compounds current stresses and predisposes them to even higher risks of behavioral problems. Adolescents are more likely to smoke, use alcohol and other drugs, commit crimes and engage in sexual intercourse when out of school. Suicidal ideation and behavior may be expected to occur more frequently at such times of isolation among susceptible youth. Students face greater risks of dropping out permanently and becoming entangled in the courts when they are excluded from school.

Students who are suspended or expelled should have immediate professional support and continuous adult supervision during school hours. Suspension and expulsion should always be accompanied by a referral to a health and/or mental health professional to identify any underlying problems. Innovative disciplinary actions schools have taken include: immediate transfer of students to supervised "suspension classrooms" (until they are either moved to an alternate setting or re-admitted to regular school site), having parents accompany students to school for a portion of the school day, and having students provide community service on school grounds during non-school hours.

Schools are required to provide educational services to students receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, even when they are expelled, if the offending behavior is related to their disability. School must do pre-expulsion assessments and demonstrate reasonable efforts to minimize the risk of harm in these students' educational placement. Modifications of these students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are often specifically re-designed to address and prevent recurrence of inappropriate behavior. This is a promising model for managing disciplinary problems of all students (i.e. both regular and special education).

   
 
   
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CHAPTER RELATED LINKS
 

American Association for Suicide Prevention
Research, education and statistics regarding suicide.

American Association of Suicidology

Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice
Supports and promotes a reoriented national preparedness to foster the development and the adjustment of children with or at risk of developing serious emotional disturbance.

Center for Mental Health in Schools.
Resources, technical assistance, and continuing education on topics related to mental health in schools, with a focus on barriers to learning and promotion of healthy development.

Center for School Mental Health Assistance
Supports schools and communities in the development of programs and provides leadership and technical assistance to advance effective interdisciplinary school-based mental health programs.

Children's Safety Network
Resources on child safety in school and on employed youth.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

Colorado Anti-Bullying Project
Part of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. Provides information for teachers, parents, and students to prevent bullying, including resources, links, and a bullying quiz.

Connect for Kids
Resources for teachers and parents with advice from mental health professionals.

Keep Schools Safe
Information on violence and unintentional injury prevention in schools.

National Association of School Psychologists

National Educational Service
For educators and other youth professionals to help foster environments where all youth succeed.

National Institute of Mental Health
Click onto "For the Public" to retrieve publication materials relating to mental health for children and adolescents, including materials on violence and suicide, including surgeon general reports.

National Mental Health Information Center
A web site for the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Links to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and other mental health resources.

National Resource Center for Safe Schools

Safe USA
Resources for safety on playgrounds and in sports, and for violence prevention.

Students Against Destructive Decisions
Peer leadership organization to promote health and safety.

Students Pledge Against Gun Violence

Suicide Awareness: Voices of Education
Educates public on suicide prevention.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Technical assistance, training and information designed to strengthen suicide prevention, network and advance the national strategy for suicide prevention.

US Department of Education

US Department of Education - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

US Department of Education - Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools
Includes publications on effective violence and substance abuse prevention programs.

US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Information and resources (conferences, funding opportunities, publications) about juvenile justice, delinquency, and combating youth crime.

US Surgeon General Reports