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School Safety Initiative Gets $6.2 Million Infusion

October 7, 2015 • CU Boulder News • Social Sciences

According to Beverly Kingston, the nation has the knowledge it needs to prevent youth violence, but "we have yet to put everything we know into action."

A new $6.2 million grant from the National Institute of Justice will help 32 Front Range middle schools do just that, said Kingston, director of the CU-Boulder Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence in the CU-Boulder Institute of Behavioral Science and the grant’s principal investigator.

“Schools and districts still lack the infrastructure and a roadmap to support their work," Kingston said. "We intend to provide those key supports.”

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence will lead the new $6.2 million effort to promote school safety. 

The four-year grant will allow researchers to evaluate the feasibility and impact of the Safe Communities Safe Schools model whose goal is to reduce youth violence and problem behavior and increase pro-social behavior in select Colorado schools.

The initiative builds and improves upon the center’s original Safe Communities Safe Schools initiative launched in 1999 with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office after the Columbine High School shootings.

Middle school is a critical time to reinforce effective violence-prevention efforts because the risk of problem behavior, such as violence and suicide, dramatically increases with the onset of adolescence, Kingston said. 

The Safe Communities Safe Schools model features:

  • • Engagement of a multidisciplinary school team and the development of key community partnerships committed to data-based decision-making, cultural responsiveness, fair and consistent disciplinary practices and school-wide change;
  • • Implementation of an effective intelligence-gathering system to collect and interpret data points at the school pertaining to climate, attendance, discipline, bullying, violence, victimization and mental health issues; and
  • • Development of an evidence-based, multi-tiered system of support including a school-wide approach to social and emotional learning and adequate staff capacity to identify and address student needs at all levels.

Under the grant, eight schools selected through an application process will be added each year.

Monica Fitzgerald, a clinical psychologist specializing in childhood trauma and socio-emotional development and project co-investigator, said the project is unique because it addresses school safety at the micro and macro levels.

“It takes an evidence-based holistic approach to building awareness and skills among administrators, teachers, students, families and school staff to tune in to students’ emotional and behavioral health and sensitively respond to youth who are struggling," Fitzgerald said.

The project will embed social and emotional programming into everyday school activities to teach students how to recognize and manage emotions, develop positive and caring relationships, solve problems effectively, behave ethically and avoid negative behaviors. The project also supports school staff to gain skills to recognize their reactions and emotions and learn stress reduction strategies.

As part of the project, Safe2Tell – a state-funded program run by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that allows young people to report threats anonymously – will provide training to communities, students and educators to promote bystander reporting of safety concerns.

Co-principal investigators Sabrina Arredondo Mattson, Monica Fitzgerald and Kimberly Shipman, also researchers at the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, will collaborate with a multi-disciplinary research team of experts and institutions. This includes Thomas Dishion, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, senior researcher Allison Dymnicki and principal researcher Elizabeth Spier of the American Institutes of Research, the Boulder-based PassageWorks Institute and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. 

“Middle school is a time when kids can really struggle,” Kingston said. “We want to help foster a nurturing climate that really supports kids so they can stay on track and reach their potential. This is way bigger than school safety. We are setting kids up for the lives they are supposed to lead. We are setting them up to thrive.”

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