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Keeping Students Safe through Collaboration

By Lauren Gilbert

Dec 8, 2010 Back


Schools, in collaboration with the police, fire and mental health departments, have an obligation to provide a safe learning environment for students so they may achieve academic success. It is this interagency cooperation, along with a clear understanding of a common goal, that provides a process to keep students safe.

As a school administrator, a community constituent and a MatchBook editorial board member, I am advocating that we take an active role in this four part process: Prevention, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. As the Director of Pupil Services I am responsible for school safety. My first goal is to prevent students from participating in dangerous behavior to themselves or others. My second and third objectives are to provide educators with the ability to prepare and respond appropriately when a student is in crisis. Lastly, I make sure our schools have the resources to recover in such an event. Working in a school, I have the unique opportunity to interact with students and parents on a continual basis and to be part of this four part process.

All agencies should have a recovery plan in place to address an urgent situation that may arise to ensure that students and staff can recover and move forward in a positive direction. Correspondingly, if a student is the victim of a burn injury, schools must be prepared to welcome and integrate that student back into their community. This part requires significant communication between schools, pediatric burn care and mental health professionals.

Education is key to preventing students from participating in and exploring firesetting behavior. As educators, we have an excellent forum to reach students and families by incorporating fire safety instruction into our curriculum. The presence of fire services and juvenile justice, the research from the mental health community, the referral services offered by pediatric burn hospitals all strengthen the ability to provide age appropriate fire prevention activities and lesson plans that can be quickly implemented and easily incorporated into classroom instruction. Based on recidivism studies, we know that fire prevention education works, but we also know that educators are under-resourced to provide this effective type of prevention education.

Through guidance counselors, social workers, school nurses, and psychologists, schools today provide far more than academic instruction. As these layers of our academic community support our roles as educators, we need to support their work so they can be prepared to identify and respond appropriately to students who may be participating in or likely to be participating in firesetting.

Path to Solutions

As a member of the MatchBook team and discussion, I know that each of these parts requires collaboration and will be strengthened by coming together to tackle this challenge. While I am in the unique position to reach students and parents, my message is better delivered, informed, experienced and achieved as an outcome of pediatric burn care, fire services, juvenile justice, mental health and schools coming together.

About The Author

Lauren Gilbert

Lauren Gilbert, Director of Pupil Services for the Natick Public School system in Massachusetts, began her career in education as a middle school special needs teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Prior to her current position, she served as Natick’s Program Supervisor for two years and as the Special Education Coordinator and Team Chairperson for six years in Massachusetts’ City of Worcester Public Schools. In the latter capacity, she worked with middle and elementary school age students, as well as out of district placements. Lauren partnered with the local Police and Fire Departments to develop a School Emergency and Crisis Response Plan. The objectives of the program are to protect the lives and well-being of its students and staff. As an extension of her efforts to ensure safety within the school buildings, she has become an active participant in the New England Juvenile Firesetting Task Force.