Category: News

Pat Kerrigan interviews Community Matters CEO Diana Curtin

August 1, 2019 KSRO Radio

Pat Kerrigan speaks with Community Matters CEO Diana Curtin about our mission and the Safe School Ambassadors® Program, and how it changes the culture on school campuses.

Hear the Interview

Safeguarding Schools Inside-Out Instead of Outside-In

April 20 2019 by Karen Bossick, eyeonsunvalley.com

Most schools adopt an adult-driven, control-driven, outside-in approach to secure schools. They rely on school resource officers, punitive policies and, often, metal detectors. That approach—keeping trouble out—may work at an airport or in a prison but not in schools, says Community Matters founder Rick Phillips.

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Bullying, Cyberbullying and Teen Suicide: Risks and Prevention Strategies

by William Grace Frost
Former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters

Data recently published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), indicates that suicide is now the #1 cause of death for 11-14 years olds in America.

The first time I heard this statistic, it nearly took my breath away. Then after the shock wore off, my next thoughts were, “It must be a mistake or a misprint. How is it possible that anyone so young could feel such despondency and hopelessness as to want to take their own life, and even worse, that suicide could rise to the top of the mortality tables for these young children?”

Research shows that suicide-related behaviors are caused by a myriad of factors, and are often not related to a single cause or incident. We also know that bullying/cyberbullying is one of the contributing factors in students turning to suicide as a “solution” to their problems. Even though the vast majority of youths involved in bullying/cyberbullying do not choose such a rash resolution, we know that it’s a contributing factor in many specific cases and that it increases a child’s risk of suicide contemplation.

The death of a Sonoma Valley, CA, teen who killed himself in 2015 after years of bullying is but one tragic example. The boy’s father said that his son had been a target of bullying since elementary school. By the time he reached high school, with classmates continuing to pick on him and encourage him to take his own life, it became too much for the boy to bear.

The National Crime Prevention Council has found that 43% of teens report being bullied on-line and 81% claim that it’s much easier to bully someone with the use of social media. Despite the best efforts of policymakers and educators, bullying/cyberbullying has become a national crisis affecting school children all across the U.S., regardless of the school’s demographics, and regardless if it’s rural or urban, public, private or charter.

Due in part to teens and pre-teens mostly-unfettered access to the internet and their prevalent use of social media, the bullying phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions.

To a large extent, cyber aggression and face-to-face bullying in all its forms are:

disproportionately targeted at many of our most vulnerable populations including youth of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ youth and those who are regularly exposed to violence, alcoholism or drug abuse at home or in their neighborhood;
filtering down into younger and younger grades due to increases in cell phone use;
becoming meaner because hurtful things written on-line often emboldens the aggressors with a perceived sense of anonymity;
more socially and emotionally damaging due to the fact that:
kids access social media 24/7, leaving no “safe harbor” for them at home or “recovery-time” for the ones being continuously tormented by cruel messages, and the accumulated stress leads some students to start looking for a “way out” of situations that seem hopeless;
young people’s underdeveloped frontal cortex’s do not provide the proper discernment needed to make good decisions about what they should and shouldn’t post on social media;
compromising photos, rumors or embarrassing incidents often get spread school-wide in nearly an instant, leading young children to think that their lives are no longer livable because “now everybody knows”.

Although researchers have yet to make the direct correlation between bullying/cyberbullying and suicide, we do know that the prevalence of both phenomena is on the rise, and that they have the potential of being very costly to students, families and schools, and to the insurance pools whose charge it is to mitigate the risks.
So how can we mitigate the risk of student suicides?

Creating safer schools is a relationship opportunity that needs a people solution. What’s needed is training, training, training – with the students to wake up the courage of bystanders and then equipping them with non-violent communication skills to effectively intervene and report when they see or hear incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, hazing, harassment or any other mean-spirited behavior – and with the adults who are uniquely positioned to provide valuable guidance, trust and insight for students’ conduct, both on campus and on-line.

At Community Matters, we know from years of practice and research that the most effective strategies empower young people to be part of the solution. This is done by engaging their empathy and providing the skills to safely intervene and support each other, instead of joining in the mistreatment or remaining passive bystanders. Enlisting students as part of the solution, whether on-line or in person, is a key determinant in improving school climate, and schools that focus on creating a safe and inclusive climate have been shown to have fewer incidents of all forms of mistreatment, including cyberbullying.

The simple fact is that when students look out for one another and feel confident and competent to speak up, everyone feels safer, relationships improve, bystanders become upstanders… and the number of risk-oriented incidents and associated costs are vastly reduced.

One example was reported to us recently by a teacher at a school in northern California:

“We recently had a pair of students have a very public Twitter posting “altercation” which led one of them to consider suicide and post cryptic messages concerning others on Twitter. Three of our students who had been trained in bullying prevention techniques intervened by supporting the victim, directing the attacker to stop what they were doing, and then getting help from an adult, just as they were trained to do.

Both our site principal and I received multiple messages from the [trained students] about this event and we were able to make contact with the students involved and intervene in time. The student is now getting support. This was a potentially dangerous situation that was stopped in its tracks because of the courageous and skillful actions taken by classmates.”

Positive outcomes such as this take place in middle and high schools all across the country where students have been empowered to find their voices on behalf of bully-targeted peers.

Another part of the equation is staff training. Training for school administrators and staff needs to be oriented towards developing trusting relationships with students. One of our credos at Community Matters for teacher-student relationships is “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care”. Teachers need to become “hall-friendly”, regularly taking the time to meet and greet students with words as simple as “Hi Bobby, great to see you today; I hope you have a good one.” Adult-driven relationships such as this help create a sense of belonging and connectedness, which research shows are the most important elements for student well-being.

Here are some other things we can do to support students in being both “cyber-safe” and “school connected”, and hence, less likely to become despondent, and potentially suicidal:

1. Staff members need to talk with their students about the realities of internet security, such as the fact that:

Nothing on the internet is ever truly anonymous;
Even though Snap Chat‘s postings “disappear”, people can, and do, take screenshots of their content before they “vanish”;
What gets posted to the web can negatively affect everything from their reputation, to their friendships, to future employment.

2. Let teens know that they can choose to protect their tweets; according to Twitter, they should know that:

People will have to specifically request to “follow” them; each follow request will also need approval; their tweets will only be visible to users they’ve approved and others will not be able to retweet or quote their Tweets;
They cannot share permanent links to their tweets with anyone other than their approved followers.

3. Some other good general rules about internet and social media for both adults and young people include:

Always use a strong password and use login verification;
Watch out for suspicious links, and always make sure you’re on the site you think you’re on before you enter your login information;
Never give your username and password out to untrusted third parties, especially those promising to get you followers, make you money or bring you notoriety;

4. Set up a Google alert for their name (adults can do this too) so that when any mention of their name comes up on Google, you know first. Information is still power. Let your student athletes know that many NCAA and NAIA sports teams are doing this as well.

5. Talk with them about appropriate online behavior before there’s a problem. Impress the importance of treating each other with kindness and respect, whether on-line or face-to-face.

6. “Think before you post” is a great general rule of thumb in coaching young people to minimize cyber meanness, insensitivity and thoughtlessness. Often just taking a deep breath or two and the reminder to “think about it and the possible harmful repercussions” prior to posting will decrease the potential hurtfulness. If they wouldn’t say it to the person’s face or out loud, they shouldn’t say it online.

Results of such trainings over the past 20 years have told us that we can reduce the risk factors for those youths who feel marginalized, helpless or hopeless due to the cruel and thoughtless behaviors of others, and consider that suicide is the only way out. Going forward we must continue to explore and monitor emerging research that helps us strengthen our practices in preventing students from wanting to end their lives, and we must never stop training everyone involved in education to be aware and skillful in inoculating our youth from the terrible epidemic of bullying/cyberbullying.

Most bullying happens away from adults. This Wisconsin school teaches kids to step in.

April 3, 2019 by Rory Linnane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
(Photo: Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Safe School Ambassadors at Adams-Friendship High School in Wisconsin are making a difference in the lives of their peers.

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How Students Can Help Prevent Sexual Misconduct at School

by Dr. Glenn Lipson
Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, MakingRightChoices.com

In the insurance industry, SAM refers to sexual abuse and molestation incidents. It seems that every other day in the news there is another person in a school being accused of engaging in inappropriate intimacy with a student. One of these events is too many, but across the country and internationally, sexual misconduct keeps occurring.

It is a core belief, and demonstrated, that students know what is going on in their schools. They have a sense of the employees that stand too closely, who eye them down and undress them inappropriately with their gaze, and respond to them more like a peer than an adult with authority. Their senses inform them that there is something odd or creepy about this person. Students at school are also aware of the students who are taking advantage of their classmates sexually.

Students can lend a powerful voice if we listen to what they want to share. Amplifying youth awareness and voice helps deter these problems. Whether it is sexual harassment or protecting a fellow student from a predator on campus, there is a task to be accomplished. Rather than focusing on adults abusing children let’s look at child-on-child abuse. Examining federal crime data, and state education records, the Associated Press in a 2017 research article documented 17,000 official cases of sexual assaults of other students over a 4-year period from 2011 to 2015. With approximately 50 million K-12 students this number does not capture what is taking place because such incidents are vastly under-reported. Still the numbers suggest that student-on-student abuse happens 7 times more often than teacher-on-student misconduct.

Many states don’t even track when these events between students happen or if they are classified as sexual violence. What Community Matters demonstrates is this: if we want to curb and decrease these types of incidents, we need to tap into youth awareness and provide them with the skills to set limits, share information and resolve conflicts. Community Matters has tapped into the resource of students to address issues that often those in the administration have little awareness of in their schools.

Our children know, and it takes little guidance to recruit them and their natural desire to promote safety and healthy connections. These connections are the most rewarding. As an expert in this area, this author will continue to work with Community Matters because it is an integral part of prevention and change.

 

Risk Factors & Solutions For Supporting LGBTQ Students

by De Palazzo
Statewide Safe Schools Director, Equality Florida

When I was a youth, there was nothing that would aggravate me more than watching someone being treated like a second class person—simply because they were different, whether that difference be pertaining to their size, weight, shoes, hair, belt, how they walked, how they talked, held themselves, or skin color and socio-economic status. In my Catholic school in the early 70’s there was plenty of mistreatment to be found in every corner of our small school building.

As we walk our planet in 2019 and beyond, those reading this blog know as well as I do that this is still taking place regularly in our classrooms, our school buildings, our hallways and our school restrooms. And further still in 2019, the mistreatment is fervent and regularly happening to our transgender, gender nonbinary, lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer students.

In my role as Equality Florida’s statewide Safe Schools Director for the last two years, I have been able to meet and work closely with school district upper level officials across Florida’s sunshine state in 62 of the state’s 67 school districts. I work to give them a much needed wakeup call pertaining to the needs, challenges and resiliency of our LGBTQ+ children in elementary through 12th grade, so that they will work toward both systematizing and structurally operationalizing LGBTQ “best practices” for every one of our students in each of their school districts whether their district be large and urban, medium-sized or rural and small.

I am happy to say, this has been working—but certainly not fast enough. And here’s why.

The most contemporary empirical research, as well as respected national and state surveys regarding at-risk behavior and resiliency for all youth, finds the risk factors for LGBTQ students to be sobering and stunningly escalated. GLSEN’s 2019 School Climate Survey found little improvement in safety, including discriminatory practices, lack of ability to use the appropriate restroom for transgender affirmed children, authentic identity and LGB and transgender students continual absence at school because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable when in school.
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Florida’s latest well respected “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” found that LGB students identified as 15-20% of school populations, with 3.6% of students identifying as transgender. That’s a large number of youth. Yet these Florida students were 4.5 times more likely to die by suicide than their non-LGB peers, and 57% feel sad and hopeless every day, so much so that they do not want to go to school. When I get the platform to speak with upper level leadership I work hard to step into their shoes. And, I remind them that 2019 queer youth, although this is getting a bit better, still regularly encounter tension or conflict at home because of their identity. A number of our places of worship still hold entrenched beliefs about LGBTQ children, and young people hear from the pulpit that it’s not okay to be who they authentically are. Still, in the United States, only 15-18% of school districts present any LGBTQ cultural competency professional development training to their upper level administrators, student services staff and front-line teachers, where gay students often turn first for a sense of belonging and support.

So, what can we do to ensure that this beautiful group of vulnerable, trauma-exposed, yet resilient young human beings stay in school, grow, thrive, have fun and graduate successfully to reach their utmost potential? We ensure state of the art, gold star “best practices” are structurally implemented and operationalized from the top down in our school districts, which extends to the executive level all the way to the hallways and lunchrooms of our multicultural and highly diverse school districts. This would include training for all staff, K-12, including our often forgotten but very student connected cafeteria service workers, bus drivers and aides, along with principals and teachers. Gay Straight Student Alliance Clubs should be supported, active and resourced in every districts’ middle and high schools, and safe space stickers, with safe space professional development being displayed and activated with fidelity and authenticity. These are just a few of the eight to ten critical components that provide an armor of support for this vulnerable and unique population of school children.

In closing, I pose to you that these are, in some ways “the best of times and the worst of times”, with LGBT people having the right to marry, and our young people now able to be out at school in a bolder and prouder manner in elementary, middle and high schools.
Yet, we have much work to do, and pushback across pockets of states from extremists is very real, very palpable and hateful to the point of taking one’s breath away when it is experienced by children. This is happening every day.

Recently, I was in the presence of the Chief Director of Student Services for the State of Florida, Monica Verra Tirado. She said “For every child who has found their voice and is an advocate and “high flyer” for themselves…what about the children that aren’t? It is OUR job to do this for them.”

Thank you in advance for standing on the shoulders of so many others who have always taken care of our most vulnerable children, of whatever background, culture or identity, so that every single one of our LGBTQ children and young adults will continue to be and remain “HIGH FLYERS,” soaring healthily and brightly in 2019 and beyond.


De Palazzo is the Statewide Safe Schools Director for Equality Florida, and was a Community Matters Safe School Ambassadors® Senior Trainer from 2005 – 2016.

 

Peer Pressure and Peer Intervention – One Voice Can Make the Difference

by Lyndsey Burcina
Curriculum Developer & Program Coordinator, Metta Center for Nonviolence

Teen addiction rates are on the rise, and the cause can often be linked to the need for peer acceptance. Every day, youth between the ages of 11 to 18 are pressured by their peers to try something new. It used to be just alcohol and marijuana, but recently cocaine, LSD, and opioids have become more easily accessible to kids.

My experience with peer pressure and substance abuse is probably one of the most common. The summer before seventh grade I was hanging out with some friends from school. We were watching a movie in the garage when one of the boys pulled a joint out of his pocket. As the kids passed the joint around, I refused it twice until they started calling me a stuck-up wimp. They said I was too scared or too much of a goodie-goodie to smoke, so I gave in because I wanted to prove them wrong. I’m not sure why being a “good kid” bothered me so much, but it did, and people using that against me made me feel bad. For many, marijuana is a gateway drug. After that night, I knew that the only way to avoid the feeling of being different or isolated from the rest of the group was to force myself to do things I didn’t want to because that’s what the “cool kids” were doing. Soon I was drinking and smoking my way through seventh grade at concerts, parties, and the occasional school ditch day. That was the extent of my substance abuse until I turned 14 and someone brought cocaine to a sleepover. Coke was something I had only seen in movies or tv shows, so the fact that it was sitting in front of me felt strange. Two girls snorted the coke and asked me if I wanted any. My first response was no, but the girls started chanting “do it, do it, do it,” until I finally relented. I was hooked after my first try. For two and a half years my “friends” were feeding my addiction 3-5 times a day.

My rock bottom arrived in April of 2016. I had been hospitalized for multiple overdoses, had become dangerously anorexic, and burned a hole in the upper section of my septum. Having phased out of the “bad kids” group, I formed positive relationships with students in my restorative justice class. On April 22, 2016, they sat me down to express their concerns. They told me that they couldn’t sit by and watch me kill myself and that I was too special to lose. I denied having a problem for about an hour until it finally clicked how much I had hurt the people I loved most so I said okay. As hard as it was, I reluctantly but voluntarily went into treatment on May 2, 2016. I stayed there working a program with 12 other girls for 90 days, and for 90 days my friends, teachers, and family called me to tell me they were rooting for me. They helped me work on my self-confidence and become the Lyndsey I was meant to be. I have been sober since May 2, 2016 and if it were not for my peers holding a makeshift intervention, I probably would not be here today.

From my perspective on peer pressure, it takes multiple people and multiple comments to convince someone to do something they don’t want to do, but it takes only one person and one voice to speak up and point out that it’s wrong. It takes only one person to say “you don’t have to do it”, and to change someone’s mind. That voice could be what stands between a life full of love and opportunities and a life surrounded by jails, institutions and death. These are trying times for our youth. You can buy drugs and alcohol as easy as you can buy candy, so it is crucial that we not only make sure that our kids know that it’s okay to say no, but that they have the tools to speak up for themselves or someone else. We need to come together to support younger generations and let them know that it’s okay to resist doing something they aren’t comfortable with. This support and these skills save lives, just like my friends saved mine.


Lyndsey Burcina is a certified Restorative Practices trainer, speaker and radio show host, and is the Curriculum Developer & Program Coordinator with the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, CA, building restorative justice and nonviolence curricula for youth and adults in Sonoma County schools. She served as a Safe School Ambassador beginning in 6th grade and throughout her middle and high school years.

A City’s Collaborative Approach to Violence Prevention

by Jason Carter
Violence Prevention Manager, City of Santa Rosa, CA

In the late 1990s and early 2000’s, the City of Santa Rosa was experiencing an increasing amount of violent street gang activity, and an acknowledgement by the Santa Rosa Police Department that the City could not arrest our way out of the gang problem. Although law enforcement efforts were critical, enforcement alone could not adequately address the systemic causes of youth and gang-related criminal activity. There was a growing recognition that a comprehensive approach was necessary, so in July of 2003, then Mayor of Santa Rosa Sharon Wright established the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force with the unanimous support of the Santa Rosa City Council.

“One of our first challenges was actually acknowledging to our community we had an issue with youth violence. Our transparency attracted other members of our community who wanted to be part of the solution.”
Tom Schwedhelm, City of Santa Rosa Councilmember

Modeled after the City of San Jose’s Task Force, the City of Santa Rosa established a community-based collaborative effort designed to engage multiple stakeholders to reduce youth & gang violence. In 2015, The Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force was rebranded as the City of Santa Rosa’s Violence Prevention Partnership. Now simply referred to as, “The Partnership,” the program is a model of shared responsibility, currently involving over 50 organizations to strengthen youth and families and create safe neighborhoods through mobilizing and engaging parents, schools, community-based organizations, faith community, business, government, and local law enforcement.

Evidence-informed research suggests that violence prevention requires comprehensive systems to address the social determinants of health to reduce violence and increase pro-social behavior. To better align these efforts, The Partnership developed the Community Safety Scorecard in 2016, which identified strategies through a public health lens across four key domains: Economic Conditions, School Conditions, Family & Community Connectedness, and Crime & Safety. By identifying geographical areas throughout Santa Rosa with higher incidents of violence and gaps in services, The Partnership gained a greater understanding of the root causes of violence while striving for an equitable distribution of local and statewide resources in support of the City’s youth and families.

“The California Board of State and Community Corrections provides grants that promote shared solutions to shared problems and the efficient leveraging of multiple funding sources to improve community/government relations and increase capacity for community-based organizations. The City of Santa Rosa’s Violence Prevention Partnership is an example of one such collaboration, relying on a multi-disciplinary effort among city government, community leaders, schools, faith communities and businesses to protect and provide services to at-risk young people in underserved areas.”
Colleen Curtin, California Board of State and Community Corrections Field Representative

Since 2012 the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) has awarded the City of Santa Rosa over $2.8 million to deliver evidence-based gang prevention, intervention, and re-entry programs to the under-served communities. This funding has provided The Partnership with the resources to create an internal referral system, Guiding People Successfully (GPS), aimed at providing wraparound case management services for high-risk youth in the community.

Residents of Santa Rosa prioritized supporting our high-risk youth and families by passing Measure O, a sales tax that has allowed The Partnership to invest over $6 million since 2006 into local community-based organizations and schools through the Community Helping Our Indispensable Children Excel (CHOICE) Grant Program. The City of Santa Rosa also organizes community engagement events such as Gang Prevention Awareness Month and Parent Engagement Month to raise awareness and educate the community on the collaborative efforts to prevent youth and gang violence. Although the City of Santa Rosa has recently adopted upstream violence prevention strategies, the City has witnessed change as evidenced by the 88% of youth who did not reoffend after receiving services through our referral program.

The City of Santa Rosa believes there is not one common established system in place to create safe neighborhoods and prevent youth and gang violence, so we rely on innovative forward thinking and strong partnerships to continuously evolve and collectively impact Our Youth, Our Safety, Our Community.


For more information on the City of Santa Rosa’s Violence Prevention Partnership, please visit www.srcity.org/ThePartnership

 

Amplifying Youth Voice in a Restorative School Community

by Sue Perkins
Director of Training & Program Development, Community Matters

“Begin with the end in mind.” – Stephen R. Covey

During staff development workshops I often ask educators to reflect and share why they decided on a career in education. “To support kids”, “Because I wanted to make a difference”, “My third-grade teacher changed my life and I want to do the same for other kids” are common responses. These answers are not huge surprises, and they don’t usually catch other participants off guard. However, as they continue to reflect on why they chose their careers, what it is they want for their students, and how their daily priorities and frustrations often get in the way of those intentions, the surprises, and often the tears, begin to flow. The truth is, while reaching towards our goal to improve the lives of students, the path often gets blurred by the demands of the day-to-day.

It is encouraging that good news is moving from the horizon closer to our reality. Two tried and true and empowering ideas are building momentum together: Restorative Practices and Youth Voice, promising more engaged, respectful and caring school climates.

Note the definitions of these two practices, as provided by Wikipedia:
Restorative Practices focus on improving and repairing relationships between people and communities. The purpose is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm and restore relationships.

Youth Voice refers to the distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people as a collective body. The term youth voice often groups together a diversity of perspectives and experiences, regardless of backgrounds, identities, and cultural differences.

Returning to our initial goals for becoming educators can be approached using The Formula for Empowering Youth, as outlined by Community Matters founder Rick Phillips. This formula reminds us to begin with the end in mind. As we all want our students to be competent, caring and contributing (3 C’s) members of society we must support their success. This includes providing a sense of purpose, power and place (3 P’s) along with opportunities to be engaged, equipped and empowered (3 E’s).

The 3 “P’s”
Purpose, Power and Place
+
The 3 “E’s”
Engage, Equip, and Empower
=
The 3 “C’s”
Competent, Caring and Contributing

The Formula for Empowering Youth highlights the developmental needs of youth and the monumental contributions that students can make to a school’s climate. This formula builds upon the foundation of Restorative Practices, which provides for the building of healthy relationships between students and adults at school. Through these relationships students are encouraged to use their voices to make a positive difference in their school.. Simply put, true dedication to Restorative Practices supports empowering Youth Voice to the benefit of the school community.

Returning to why we chose education as our career focus, our personal examples serve as our starting points. In order to be successful, we must continuously remember our final goal – to keep the end in mind. To make a difference in a child’s life, we can start by building solid relationships of respect, and by encouraging their voices as they participate fully in the restorative climate we strive to have on each campus.

A few ideas for encouraging and amplifying student’s voices within our Restorative School Communities:

  • Invite students to serve on the Site Council and the PTA
  • Have students plan and facilitate Restorative Community Circles
  • Have students contribute to the school’s website and social media accounts
  • Use the student’s interests and requests to build Enrichment Activities
  • Adults can work together to be sure every student is greeted by name daily

Restorative Practices, like the Formula for Empowering Youth, remind us to provide opportunities for all students to be full participants in the school community, not simply “consumers” or passive bystanders. When recruiting students for leadership positions or responsibilities, remember to reach out to a variety of students on campus. For example, the students on the Site Council do not need to be the Honor Roll Students. Broaden the reach to include students who may not otherwise have an opportunity to be heard.

Our students’ ideas and energy are tremendous and should be put to good use! They have much to say and to contribute to the campus climate. This does not require more work from the adults, but simply requires us to remember why we became educators in the first place.