School bullying has led to incidents of school violence across the nation, but more than 300 educators, mental health professionals, parents, and members of law enforcement met on Wednesday, December 4, 2013, at the Riverside County Safe Schools Summit held at the Palm Springs Convention Center to find ways to help students deal with problems like bullying before they lead to tragedies.
“This Summit is a model that should be replicated across the state and the country,” said Michele Borba, an internationally recognized expert on violence prevention and parenting. “It has brought together the stakeholders in students’ lives who can really help make a difference.”
Borba said that the one thing students who are involved in school shootings share in common is that at one time they were all bullied. Beyond the obvious need to prevent tragedies, she said students need to feel safe at school before they can learn. She urged educators and others responsible for school safety to create an environment for students where they can feel physically safe, and also provide them with support to feel emotionally safe and become resilient.
Providing a safer environment can mean posting adults at key areas of the school to watch for violence or using surveillance cameras. Parents can help end violence by paying careful attention to what their children say about bullying.
“It’s happening every day to our children,” said parent Gloria Webster. “We need to get more information about bullying to our parents.”
Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit called for creation of the Summit in response to incidents like the shooting deaths of 26 people – 20 of them students – at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut nearly one year ago.
What emerged was a collaboration between the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, and the Riverside Department of Mental Health with funding from Prevention and Early Intervention Services, Community Education, and the Stigma Reduction programs.
“I see a direct connection between mental health issues and school safety,” said Supervisor Benoit, who worked in law enforcement before joining the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. “We haven’t had a large scale incident, like Sandy Hook, but there are countless mental health-related issues occurring on school campuses that we can deal with.”
Experts speaking at the Summit said that one in five students on school campuses is experiencing some sort of mental health issue each day, ranging from students who feel bad about breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend to those feeling suicidal, perhaps because they are being bullied.
Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Young said large scale tragedies have led to more locked doors and other security measures at schools, but the summit would help focus attention on students and their problems before they lead to violence. “Much of what we encounter is not the Columbines, not the large scale events. There is so much we can do to be aware of these things and prevent the large scale events from occurring,” said Superintendent Young. “Education is all about improving the quality of life, and so is keeping our schools safe.”
Breakout sessions during the Summit addressed teen suicide prevention and awareness, child sex trafficking, drug trends among youth, active shooter preparedness, bullying and cyber bullying, recognition and prevention strategies, youth accountability teams, diversion programs, and gang awareness.