The following is a column submitted by Michelle Hutchins, County Superintendent of Schools, published here as a letter-to-the-editor:
Mendocino County Office of Education: A Perspective on Education
HERO Program – Keeping Students Safe
When I was a kid, we had “duck and cover” drills, in case an earthquake or nuclear bomb hit our school. We were a little unsettled by the possibility of disaster, but the threat didn’t feel imminent. Sadly, the nature of disaster drills has changed. These days, students hear about campus shootings elsewhere and wonder if their school will be next. Teachers, administrators and support staff also feel the weight of this frightening possibility.
In response to school shootings, schools began doing lockdown or “shelter in place” drills, which had the unintended consequence of traumatizing some students who felt like they were simply waiting for a gunman to come and get them.
Today, there’s a new approach, one that empowers students. It’s called the H.E.R.O. Program, and thanks to a generous grant from the Mendocino Public Safety Foundation, we’ll be launching a pilot program to train students and staff in Covelo, Leggett, and Point Arena.
H.E.R.O. stands for hide, escape, run, overcome. The program shares age-appropriate information using short videos and teacher-led discussions that help students recognize, avoid, and survive an active-shooter event. It is not a fear-based program, but rather one that focuses on how students can remain safe. The program is embedded in English Language Arts (ELA) classes because it incorporates critical thinking concepts built upon Empowerment Theory that are in line with California State Standards.
The local Public Safety Foundation offered to pay the H.E.R.O. Program tuition for 1,000 students, so we chose three small school districts with a broad ethnic and economic mix. Here are some of the ideas to be shared.
Students and teachers are taught to hide from intruders and barricade their classroom. In addition to building barricades, students learn how and where to hide safely in classrooms and outdoor locations.
Students and teachers are taught to escape from an area of danger and find a safe place. Depending on the situation, remaining in one place like a classroom or cafeteria is not always the safest strategy.
Students and teachers are taught to run away from danger. While running away may seem like the obvious response, people often freeze up in a crisis and are unable to move. Running from violence is a skill to be learned, discussed and practiced. And truth be told, some ways of running are more effective than others. Students will learn the difference.
Finally, students and teachers are taught to overcome an assailant by creating an environment of resistance, chaos, and disruption. Students are taught to defend themselves physically only as a last resort.
The H.E.R.O. Program was developed by a team of educators, child psychologists, medical professionals, lawyers and law enforcement officers who recognized the complex and multi-faceted nature of school violence. By working together, they’ve created a curriculum that helps students feel empowered rather than terrified.
Of course, preparing for a school shooting is only one piece of this puzzle. Schools in Mendocino County also have behavioral health counselors available to help students recognize and work through their trauma.
If you know a disenfranchised, angry, lonely adolescent who may need help, reach out and offer it. Recommend they talk to their school counselor or just offer to listen without judgment. While it’s important that all students be prepared in the event of violence, I’d much rather prevent it.
And if you’re feeling generous and want to make a charitable donation, I highly recommend giving to the Mendocino Public Safety Foundation. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 123, Ukiah CA 95482, or made through PayPal on the Foundation’s website, www.ProtectMendocino.org. If you’d like to learn more, contact them via email at info@ProtectMendocino.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mendocino Voice. If you would like to send us a letter-to-the-editor feel free to write to firstname.lastname@example.org, we want to hear from you.