Making Schools Safer – A Student’s Perspective

February 16 2016


  • Carter Haley, Petaluma High School Freshman, Petaluma, CA
    Carter Haley
    Petaluma High School Freshman, Petaluma, CA

Administrators and teachers say that they keep bullying, violence and drug use out of their schools. Well, that may be their goal, but from my experience in school, it's not a reality. School staff can't see everything and they can't be everywhere for everyone. That's why it's so important to teach us students how to recognize situations that could easily escalate, and how and when to act. We see things, we hear things and we feel 'the vibe' going on that teachers just simply can't detect.

Before transitioning to high school this past fall, I spent two years in junior high working with Community Matters as an ambassador in the Safe School Ambassadors (SSA) program. I was proud to be involved with SSA and appreciate the opportunity I was given to be helpful to others, and I believe some of the things I learned will benefit a lot of people. Being an Ambassador helped me recognize situations that I can handle myself and what types of circumstances need the help of adults and professionals. As an Ambassador, I was able to find my courage to speak up for peers who were being picked on or made fun of. I was able to be helpful on the scene of mistreatment when the adults weren’t even aware of a problem going on. I have stood up for fellow students I thought were getting taken advantage of.  

The SSA program has helped a lot of people in different ways. As I see it, it has helped students feel safer, it has helped administrators bring a positive program into their school, it has helped parents know that the schools are working toward a safer environment for their children, and it has helped bring an open dialog about important school issues between teachers and students.

Knowing our limits, I think, is just as important as wanting to help. That happened to me and I have to admit it caught me off guard when a girl in my class, for whatever reason, started opening up to me that she was 'cutting.'

I had heard about ‘cutting’ before but never knew of anyone doing it. I talked a little bit about it with her and then realized that this was an instance that I needed to get help for her. I spoke with my advisor, who later spoke with her parents.  I'm sure that student was going through a lot at the time and I feel like she was crying out for help both with cutting her skin and by telling me about it.

Why she decided to tell me I'm not sure, but what I do know is that she started getting professional help and that's all that matters. The Safe School Ambassadors “inside-out” approach DOES work and does make a difference. In this case, this student’s problems were going undetected by her parents, teachers and other school officials, but as a student I knew about this situation because I was an equal. This is only one example of how Community Matters taught me how to make a difference in a student's life.

Fast forward one year… I am now a freshman athlete and Vice President in high school. One of my favorite classes is ASB (Associated Student Body- Leadership). Our school's motto this year is "Every Voice Heard." It is on the back of my Leadership sweatshirt. It IS important that every voice is heard and that we, as elected student leaders, act when we feel a need.  

PHS is a great school with a great atmosphere, but like every other high school, there is a reality that goes unnoticed by adults.  There are students who drink, use drugs, smoke, get in fights, and yes, even bully.  There are a number of students who could use help, and having been an Ambassador in middle school helps me know what to do. I just wish we had the SSA program here so that I, and more students like me, could continue to practice and grow our skills, and to get the staff support we need.

As an active member of the Petaluma High School student council, I believe it is our obligation to help protect our fellow students. I think that the same issues that were present in junior high when I was training with SSA/Community Matters are even more present in high school. I believe it is critical to continue training the student leaders so we can do our part in raising awareness about important teenage issues. We are the leaders of tomorrow; it is essential that we are equipped with the tools necessary to lead in the right direction.

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