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Episode 102: Safety in the New School Year

There are a lot of people who come together to make student safety a top priority in our schools. It is a combined effort on behalf of people who care.

On this episode of the Supercast, we talk to School Resource Officer Mike Ashley about his role in keeping kids safe and how students can help. We also share some ideas for keeping students safe throughout the year when it comes to their mental health and wellness.

Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. There are a lot of people who come together to make students' safety a top priority in our schools. It is a combined effort on behalf of many people who care. On this episode of the Supercast, we talk with school resource officer Mike Ashley, better known as Officer Ash about his role keeping kids safe and how students can help. We also share some ideas on student safety when it comes to their mental health and wellness.

We are here with Officer Ashley from the Riverton Police Department. He's one of our S.R.O.s - School Resource Officers. Officer Ash, thanks for spending some time with us.

Officer Ashley:
Thanks for inviting me. I'm glad to be here and I hope I can help out.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell us what are some things for us to be thinking about as we look to keep kids safe at the beginning of the school year?

Officer Ashley:
Well, first of all, if they're grade school kids, we want to make sure that, if they're walking, we want to make sure that they know the route of how they got to school and the time it takes for them to get to school and back. Also with the bus, the bus schedule and to make sure they know what buses they're getting onto. Even the bus driver's name is always kind of nice to know. And when they're expected to be home from their bus, either going to school or coming back from school.

Anthony Godfrey:
So know the route, know the bus, and know the bus driver. What are some other tips, particularly for those students who are walking to school, what are some tips for staying safe that way?

Officer Ashley:
The other thing is know your phone numbers. Not just your mom, but your dad's, maybe your brother and sister, older brother and sisters. Know the neighborhood. Know what houses are probably safe to stop at if for some reason you feel uncomfortable with somebody, or somebody seems to be following you, or a group of kids are, you feel like they're bullying you. Somewhere you can go. Find those routes, those houses that you can maybe go to if you can't make it home.

Anthony Godfrey:
Which is something that we look at whenever we're establishing those safe walking routes in partnership with the city. Is there someplace that a student could go if they had some trouble on the way home, which is a fairly rare, but you always want to know that you have a refuge available to you.

Officer Ashley:
Yes, that's correct. If it's a home, that's great. If it's somewhere else, a business, a business that you know, that's a good place to stop. Calling a parent is always one of the best things to do. Go back to the school if the school's close enough. Just turn back and go back and talk to one of the teachers or the principal, or even the hall monitors. They're always out and about around the school.

Anthony Godfrey:
And if there is a problem, then students can report that to parents or the school or the police, really anyone who can then follow up.

Officer Ashley:
Yes, that's correct. If they call the parents, which happens all the time, they call the parents, the parents usually hopefully know the SRO, they call the SRO. If they don't, they'll call a patrol officer, the patrol officer will refer it to us.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me about students maybe reporting concerns that they have, or things that they've seen that they may be worried about or that they think maybe shouldn't be happening.

Officer Ashley:
In DARE, that's kind of what we teach. Where they need to go, who they need to come to. That they can be trusted or feel that trust between the officer or even the school staff. That they can tell us something maybe they don't want anybody else to know about. In the middle school, I actually go into each of the classes and talk about keeping our school safe. Oquirrh Hills has 1300 students. I tell the students that it's 1300 students, plus the staff that's here, that are supposed to keep our school safe. So if they see something that they feel we need to know about, that they need to report it. Instead of just an officer trying to keep the whole school safe, it's everybody working together as a neighborhood.

It's as a neighborhood that we watch out for each other and we care for each other.  We take pride in our school, we take pride in who we are. We want our school to be a good school where people feel safe to go to. It's nice. I always try to tell parents to have their kids come meet me, the SRO, the hall monitors and the staff, so that the kids feel like they've been introduced and they can come at any time, with any problem. If it's just getting your locker open, finding a class. I'm doing push-ups and sit-ups with them during PE. That's kind of the stuff I did this morning. So that they feel comfortable coming up to any one of us talking about any given stress or issue that they may have.

Anthony Godfrey:
And developing a positive connection with a police officer as a student is really important. It's a great, great benefit from having officers in our school.

Officer Ashley:
Yes. Like for me, I get to teach. I start with DARE, and this year I have my fifth graders as seventh graders. So they already know me. So they're like, "Hey Officer Ash!" and they're all excited to see me because we already have that relationship.

Anthony Godfrey:
So that's really an important part of keeping our kids safe and there are benefits long after they leave school from having built that relationship.

Officer Ashley:
I've had students when I was in the high school, that graduated several years ago, come to me and say, "Hey, remember me?" And I remember them. So it's awesome to see from second grade to graduating from high school. 

Anthony Godfrey:
And the hours are a little better as a school resource officer. Aren't they? I hope.

Officer Ashley:
Yeah, we're typically 7:30 to 3:30, but sometimes we work later of course. If we get reports of a missing child or a runaway. Our phone is always on, so that patrol or any other officers can call to say, "Hey, we have this issue or problem or concern about a certain student. We need you to give us information if you can, so we can locate them, or find them, or work out whatever issue they were having".

Officer Ashley:
Well the job never stops for anyone who serves students.

Officer Ashley:
Nope, Never does. In the summertime I like to go out and do block parties, neighborhood parties, business contacts. I'm hanging out at the park. I'm trying to keep that connection with the kids during the summer. And then a lot of times their parents are there, so I get a chance to meet with them and introduce myself.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, I love the connection you've made with the community and the support that you give our schools. It's really great to be a partner with you and providing the best experience possible for students. So thank you, Officer Ash.

Officer Ashley:
Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, a conversation about the importance of mental health and wellness.

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Anthony Godfrey:
We're here with McKinley Withers and we check in with him on the Supercast on a regular basis because he does such a great job of keeping us in touch with how to take good care of kids in every way. Just to make sure that their social and emotional wellness is intact and that they're ready for the year. McKinley, thanks for joining us.

MdKinley Withers:
Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be back.

Anthony Godfrey:
This is a different year once again, from any we've experienced, things have shifted a little bit. Tell us what are some things that we should be keeping in mind to help kids feel confident going into the school year.

McKinley Withers:
This year there's a lot of talk about safety and feeling safe and being safe. I think it's important to not consider physical and mental safety as separate things. For students to be safe, it's best that all of them also feel safe. What that can mean, that could mean a lot of things. So that could mean, feeling safe, to feel free to have emotions, to express those emotions, identify them, talk about those feelings with adults or peers. That could mean safe to make mistakes. As many of them are adjusting to a new school year with new challenges, a new adjustment to the way that they're doing this again. Safe to try new things this school year as many of them tried new things with online learning or hybrid learning. Many students are going to be trying new things this year as with their teachers and their parents. Safe to be independent and feel like they can make choices and have consequences for their own choices. Then most importantly, I think we are all safer if the people around us feel connected to us and to each other. So we have to be able to feel safe around our fellow adults and our fellow peers in order to have that mental safety. That's the foundation of being safe.

Anthony Godfrey:
So safety comes from connection.

McKinley Withers:
Yes.

Anthony Godfrey:
And feeling safe really is rooted in a lot of those things that you talked about.  Being able to be independent, being able to make mistakes and to try new things. 

I participated in an exercise that was put on by teachers from Jordan and some other districts combined, where we were given activities that would be used in the classroom. It was interesting to experience it from the student side. I was given a sheet of multiplication that an elementary student would be given and I was supposed to do a timed exercise. Suddenly I'm thinking, 'I don't want to be the dumb one that doesn't know this, that doesn't get it done quickly, that doesn't get it done in time. I don't want to be wrong.' All those feelings kind of came rushing back that I hadn't experienced for a long time. It was interesting to experience that as an adult when we put students in that situation a lot, but we kind of forget what it's like, because we aren't always put in that situation ourselves. So maybe some empathy for how that feels to make a mistake, how it feels to try something new, and wonder if you're going to be good at it.

McKinley Withers:
Right, yeah. All of us are prone to forgetting what it was like when we were a lot younger when we first tried something.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah, but we also think we remember, 'oh, I've been through this. I went to elementary school.' We probably don't remember. The independence, how do we foster that?

McKinley Withers:
As a parent, we want more than anything to protect and ensure our child's safety. Part of that requires parents or caregivers to be comfortable allowing children to be unsafe and then make their own decisions.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's an interesting twist because you don't think about independence and safety being combined. That independence is risky. You see the memes on Facebook about 'I was raised in the wild in the 80s or whatever. You know, we were just turned free in the morning, and then we returned some time at night. Nobody knew where we were.' It's striking a balance I guess.

McKinley Withers:
The root of anxiety is not having exposure or experiences. So if we avoid, avoid, avoid, if we aren't able to go out and try new things and even fail and have it not be so bad. The reason we are often anxious about failure, or when that test was put in front of you, and you experienced what it's like to not be so sure if you could do your multiplication tables. I really, that was one of those moments as a Superintendent, you expressed safety and feeling, or expressing your emotions because that's quite the confession to your audience members that you were nervous in that moment. But afterwards we are feeling better because we faced the challenge. We did fail and it wasn't so bad. So we have to have those experiences in order to continue to try new things. If we protect, protect, protect, and avoid, avoid, avoid the anxiety, the tension, the fear just escalates, it gets worse.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, that's something we can all benefit from. Failing or trying something new that doesn't work, even if it doesn't work, isn't going to be as bad as we think it is. Thanks again for joining us McKinley. It's going to be a great year.

Thanks for joining us on the super cast. Remember education is the most important thing you will do today. We'll see you out there.

 

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