Category: News

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.

Read the article

Cyberbullying Prevention – Rick Phillips

February 26, 2019 – Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) podcast

Community Matters founder Rick Phillips discusses the growing prevalance, causes and effects of cyberbullying on today’s youth with host Tiquan Gilbert of PRIMA.


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.
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


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.

Youth Empowerment Is Key to Bullying Prevention

by Bernadette Sproul, Director of Finance & HR, Community Matters

As National Bullying Prevention Month is recognized in communities across America, with schools and other organizations joined as partners, awareness of bullying and its consequences continues to be a vital part of our nation’s conversation. Why is it so important to bring attention to this issue? Because it has been statistically proven that a positive school climate, where every student feels safe, is crucial for thriving, healthy and high-achieving students. At Community Matters, our flagship program Safe School Ambassadors® embodies the solution needed to undermine and prevent bullying and mistreatment by empowering students with the knowledge and skills needed to safely intervene when they witness mistreatment among their peers.

It is also important to get this message about bullying prevention out to the general public, as bullying behavior is certainly not just in schools. You can see bullying behavior often reported on national news in the business sector; so, this is not just a youth malady. People using their personal power to intimidate are found everywhere from Hollywood to corporate boardrooms. Is this what we want to model to our kids – that “might equals right”? What is the end result of that philosophy? You can see the impact of negative, destructive behavior when people are targeted by bullying, too afraid of the repercussions to come forward to confront their tormentors or even report the behavior. There is also the large group of bystanders who instead of standing up for what is right, are afraid to “rock the boat”.

The good news is that we do have the inherent capacity to demonstrate compassion and connectedness to others in our daily life. We see the confirmation of this with our Ambassadors, youth that are empowered with training and willing to get involved, right a wrong with no notion of accolades for their courage.

Natural compassion and empathy can be seen in times of hardship as well. One year ago, in our own neighborhood, the city of Santa Rosa and surrounding communities endured one of the worst natural disasters ever experienced in this region, due to the Northern California wildfires. Seeing people helping one another, reaching out and supporting strangers throughout that devastation brought home the knowledge that people have the capacity to be compassionate. That bond of connectedness was strengthened through serving others and the continues as our community rebuilds.

The bystander education provided by the SSA program harnesses the power of students to prevent and stop bullying and violence, utilizing their already innate capacity to understand and show compassion. They are trained, and then they practice these newfound relational skills amongst their circle of friends growing capacity and competency. Just like any endeavor one wishes to excel at, they practice – training the “muscle” of empathy and compassion. When Ambassadors are doing their work, they support their peers in making smart decisions. They practice first with themselves, then their family, their friends and then the greater community. The benefits? As more youth become engaged to stand up against mistreatment, their friends in turn emulate this behavior impacting even more young people.

At Community Matters, our mission is to wake up the courage of students and adults to create schools and communities that are welcoming, safe and inclusive. This work is vital for our country and we look forward to a future of collaborative partnerships with others who also believe and understand that compassion and empathy are the key to our future. Bullying Prevention Month is important for all of these reasons and many more. We extend our heart-felt appreciation and thanks to all the organizations around the country that help to shine a spotlight on this urgent problem. Together we’ll continue to build a more positive and compassionate world for everyone.

Successful School Climate Improvement: 5 Action Steps for Starting the Year Off Right

by Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters

It’s déjà vu all over again, as another start to the school year is upon us. This is a time to reconnect to our reasons for caring about students and doing all we can to ensure that they attend schools where they feel welcome, safe and connected to caring adults.

The current trends, research and legislation all highlight and promote the importance of school climate as a primary cornerstone and driver for improving safety, discipline, attendance and achievement. According to the National School Climate Center (NCSS), “Students benefit in many ways from safe, caring, and peaceful school environments.”

“Positive school climate has been linked to a host of favorable student outcomes, from attendance to achievement,” writes Milbrey McLaughlin, professor of education and public policy at Stanford University and founding director of the John W. Gardner Center. “A positive school climate includes four key elements for students: physical and emotional safety at school; positive relationships with peers and adults; support for learning; and an institutional environment that fosters connectedness and engagement.”

In order to ensure the attainment of those four positive school climate outcomes outlined by Professor McLaughlin, Community Matters understands that schools must begin with five essential steps… assess, build buy-in, plan, implement and measure. This is true for any school in California or around the nation, and whether it’s for satisfying the requirements of LCAP, Common Core or other mandates:

1. Assess – Undertaking a comprehensive assessment early in your process is critical to understanding what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing in safety initiatives, discipline policies and practices, and in the climate improvement programs needed. It also serves as your best opportunity to include representatives from all key stakeholder groups for their perspectives and for their buy-in;

2. Build Buy-In – Include, include and include. If we want our staffs to embrace the notion of school climate as a predictor of positive educational outcomes, we must use “fair process”. We must be sure to invite their dialogue, encourage their healthy discourse and support the voices of those who are currently “not on board”. By doing so, we model the importance of relationships and the belief that differences of views can be addressed and resolved in a constructive manner. And, we reduce resistance and increase acceptance of decisions that may not be initially accepted by everyone.

3. Plan – Create a comprehensive plan with as much detail as possible outlining specific goals and actions, such as: policies and procedures that will end zero-tolerance and other punitive measures, restorative practices, student leadership and bystander intervention empowerment opportunities, Social Emotional Learning programs, and suspension and expulsion reduction practices and procedures;

4. Implement – Successful implementation begins with the vision and the plan being fully communicated to your team of diverse stakeholders. This step occurs throughout the change process and keeps people in the loop all along the way. Ongoing communication is critical to implementation success, as is being sure that people receive whatever training is needed to carry out the plan. By doing these two things well, you ensure that participants feel confident, competent, included and valued.

5. Measure – When all is said and done, we know that data drives decisions. By starting with comprehensive baseline data, you will be able to see clearly from year to year what’s working, what’s not and where your best opportunities are for improvement. Data is also your best friend when it comes to making your case for future funding and in gaining greater buy-in from organizational and community leaders.

Following these critical steps will help start the year off on the right foot, and ensure your success and the long-term sustainability of your school climate improvement efforts, your LCAP (specific to California schools) plans, and your Common Core implementation.

For more information on school climate improvement, contact Community Matters at 707-823-6159 or email [email protected]


Diana Curtin on Sonoma County’s Talking

September 19, 2018 – KZST Radio

Community Matters Executive Director Diana Curtin is interviewed by news director and host Ted Williams on Sonoma County’s Talking and discusses CM’s mission and the Safe School Ambassadors® program.


Together we can end bullying

December 6, 2017 (updated) by Amy Neumann, Sean Gardner, Ann Tran, Huffington Post

Bullying has become a huge issue these days, both online and off. Not just for individuals, but also for families and communities.

Read the article