BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Violence at Steamboat schools?

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Q. To what degree are bullying and intimidation problems in the Steamboat Springs School District? What is the district doing to deal with those problems?

A. Unfortunately, as in many schools today, students in the Steamboat Springs School District experience some bullying and intimidation.

Our students are fortunate, though, to have the support of proactive teachers, staff, principals, parents, and community members in dealing with this problem. Here are some examples:

n The Steamboat Springs Board of Education has adopted two district-wide goals focused on student virtues and student success. Each School Accountability Committee creates action plans annually to address those goals and Community Audit Teams comprised of community leaders visit each school to ensure that the goals are met.

n This focus on student virtues was initiated by Strawberry Park Elementary School principal Dr. John DeVincentis in 1996 and involved parents, teachers, representatives from the Ministerial Alliance, Steamboat Springs Police Department, and Routt County Sheriff's Department. In 1997-98 and 1998-99 Strawberry Park Elementary School was honored as a Colorado School of Excellence, in part for its development of the virtues program.

n Joan Allsbury, health teacher, and Lucianne Myher, resource teacher at Steamboat Springs High School introduced Challenge Day to our eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students this year. High school students worked with eighth graders at Steamboat Springs Middle School in the fall to teach them compassion and understanding for each other's challenges. This winter SSHS juniors and seniors presented the same opportunities for freshmen and sophomores. All students involved overwhelmingly voiced their appreciation for the Challenge Day experience, noting that "It's hard to bully someone when you have compassion for them."

n This fall, Steamboat Springs Middle School principal Sandy Hall initiated a "No Bullying" program developed by the Hazelden Corporation in Minnesota. School secretary Ginny Fry and teachers Sally Howard and Lisa Ruff were the team who worked with teachers, parents, and students to implement "No Bullying" intervention strategies. A new discipline code was also designed by a group of parents, teachers, Tim Bishop (SSMS assistant principal), and Mrs. Hall. The "No Bullying" program and the discipline code are providing clear direction, consequences, and rewards for student behavior. Mr. Bishop recently rewarded students who had no discipline referrals, fewer than two tardies, and met academic requirements to a movie at the Chief Plaza Cinema.

n Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, and Assets in Routt County, coordinated by Anne Boler and sponsored by Grand Futures, worked closely with students, staff, and Dave Schmid at Steamboat Springs High School for two years to host "Connections," a Youth and Family Summit in March, 2000. The forum included presentations by Dr. Dan Smilkstein of SteamboatCARES, J.D. Hayes, director of Public Safety for the Steamboat Springs Police Department, and small group activities focused on breaking down stereotypes.

n This past fall, the Steamboat Springs School District hosted State Attorney General Ken Salazar, Dr. Ken Elliott, CU-Boulder, and Dr. Kelly Zinna, school violence prevention specialist, for a day-long workshop on school violence prevention. All school and district administrators were trained as well as administrators from the Hayden and South Routt school districts.

Q. Can parents be confident that the schools of the Steamboat Springs School District are safe places? Why?

A. School district teachers, staff, and administrators work hard to make our schools safe places.

The school district implemented a zero tolerance policy for drugs, alcohol, and weapons in 1995 and has a close working relationship with the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the Routt County Sheriff's Department.

In 1996-97, Steamboat Springs High School invited the Steamboat Springs Police Department to house a Resource Officer at the high school. Through the efforts of J.D. Hayes, Director of Public Safety for the Steamboat Police Department, we've been fortunate to have Officer Jerry Stabile and now Officer Jason Patrick assigned to our high school on a full-time basis. Sheriff John Warner of the Routt County Sheriff's Department provides a D.A.R.E. officer for Steamboat Springs Middle School. Both the police department and the sheriff's office respond quickly to any requests for assistance.

Under the direction of Rick Denney, facilities director, Anne Muhme, assistant to the superintendent, and Marj Kelton, transportation director, our school district finalized its Crisis Intervention Plan last spring. All staff and students have been trained and have practiced emergency procedures. Both the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the Routt County Sheriff's Department worked with us to create this plan.

The school district also worked with the director of safety for the Denver Public Schools.

Last summer, the school district coordinated efforts with community psychologists, psychiatrists, and Tom Gangle, director for Steamboat Mental Health, to develop a detailed procedure for the assessment of student risk of violence to self or others. When a student displays potential for violence, he/she is suspended from school, referred for assessment and cannot return to school until the level of risk is determined.

Q. What plans are in place to deal with violence in the Steamboat Springs School District should it ever occur?

A. Staff, students and administrators have been trained and practice the procedures detailed in our Crisis Intervention Plan. The Routt County Sheriff's Office and the Steamboat Springs Police Department routinely train for such occurrences.

The Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Services (BOCES) "School Crisis Intervention Guidelines for School Psychologists and Social Workers" details support mechanisms for students, staff and families when needed.

School psychologists are "on call" to our school district and other school districts throughout the Yampa Valley to provide assistance in times of crisis.

Q. Education begins at home and yet when we talk about school violence, we focus on what schools are doing to prevent it or be ready for it. How much do parents share in preventing school violence?

A. Parents can help prevent school violence by:

n Teaching their children to tell a teacher, parent or person in authority if someone threatens to harm them or someone else. That includes bullying and intimidating statements and encompasses all ages.

n Providing opportunities for children to "do good things" for their neighbors, families, church or synagogue, class, and friends.

n Limiting children's viewing of violent television programs, videos, and movies or listening to violent music.

n Participating in the "Safe Homes" program coordinated by parents at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Steamboat Springs High School, pledging to be present at parties in their homes and ensuring that the parties are drug-free and alcohol-free.

n Volunteering to help with school or community programs like the "After Prom Party," Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Assets Program, sports or other youth activities.

n Intervening in bullying or intimidation situations on behalf of the students involved. Contact the principal at your child's school or the police or sheriff's department.

n Being a good role model. Restrain your road rage or verbal attacks. Model conflict resolution in positive ways.

Remember, your children are watching.

Q. What can the community as a whole do to keep the schools of the Steamboat Springs School District safe places or make them safer?

A. Steamboat Springs is a wonderful place for young and old. Your continued support and involvement in our local schools, sponsorship of community activities for children and young people, appreciation for the work of the police and sheriff's departments and support for families will help to keep our schools safe places. Everyone of us makes a difference.

Thanks for your help.

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