Talon News - Good Local News

SANDY HOOK PROMISE COMES TO SCHOOLS

 

September 14, 2018

Leona Dimas mother, Maggie Dimas-AHS Student Council President.

Sandy Hook Promise Comes to Schools

Photos and Story by David Edward Albright, TALON

"I want to thank all the school districts for joining up...this is something, I think, that is going to make a tremendous change in lives---and I think it's going to save lives---that's our main goal...to make our schools safer and our whole community safer," Aztec Municipal Schools Superintendent Kirk Carpenter, said. Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), an organization based in Newtown, Connecticut and founded by family members of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting on December 14, 2012, is now being introduced to local schools. "We want this to spread across New Mexico," Carpenter proclaimed, as he opened the meeting held last Thursday, September 6 at San Juan College.

SHP Co-founder, Mark Barden, said his family moved to Newtown to raise their three children. With a picture of his three children, James, Natalie and Daniel, on the large screen, Barden said, "They would literally sleep in the same bed most nights...So that was just a wonderful, charmed existence that we had---and it all ended on Friday, December 14, 2012...What I do want to tell you and send you away with is some hope, especially as this has visited your own community here in Aztec."

Barden said "Through lots and lots of research and lots of conversations with thought leaders and stakeholders literally across the country, from parents and gun owners and non gun owners and PTA and clergy and law enforcement medical health professionals...we had help from McKenzie Group, who did research for us. What we landed on is this whole idea of teaching people how to know those signs...more than 70% of those people who commit suicide---talk about it first---they tell at least one other person about it. The guy that killed little Daniel was planning this for over a year---giving off warning signs all the time...So we can train students how to recognize those warning signs...and take the next step. We train the teachers how to recognize those warning signs, how to decipher what it means---where it is on the risk continuum...train parents how to be part of the process...The way we're doing it is through these four programs that we've developed."

SHP components are: 'Start with Hello', 'Signs of Suicide Safety', 'Assessment and Intervention' and 'Say Something'. "We train kids how to be good 'upstanders'; these kids are all on multiple social media platforms and they are the eyes and the ears---they are seeing things that we aren't seeing. We tell kids you're not being a rat, you're not being a snitch---if you witness that misbehavior---tell a trusted adult." They triage the information so they know what to do with it.

"We have trained over 3.5 million students and adults in our 'Know the Signs' programs; we have stopped numerous mass shootings, homicides, suicides and captured other social issues like cutting, bullying---across a broad sprectrum," Barden asserted. "We have a video with one of our principles that told us our bullying numbers have gone to zero---I'm not making that up," Barden said. When asked by school districts, 'how do we come up with the resources to do this program?', SHP's response is, "Thanks to the generosity of our donors cause we're a non-profit, grassroots organization---we offer this at no cost at all---it's free." He said the program is easy and fast to learn and that they bring staff in to help make sure the program is sustained.

Annie Praino trains people in the 'Anonymous Reporting System' and spoke next."I'm a resident of Sandy Hook and I have an eighth-grader so I'm in the middle school mix...we teach the kids what to look for---in our training literally we will give examples of what the threat can look like, what words you hear can sound like a sign or signal of someone who may be wanting to hurt themselves or someone else. Then we teach them how to act immediately and take it seriously." She said primarily, kids don't say something because they think someone else will. Training includes how to approach and talk to an adult.

Praino said, "Tips are submitted via an app, website or our 24-7 crisis hotline...and each person must associate themselves with a school...the tip goes to our crisis center where they push that tip out to either law enforcement or school-based teams or district crisis teams." She said anyone can download the app, but they are instructed to choose 'shpdemo', used only for testing the app. Each tip is categorized according to established definitions. 'Non-Life Safety' events---vandalism, drug use, planned parties---and 'Life Safety' events---human trafficing, dating violence, child predator, were mentioned by Praino.

"All tips are anonymous, we will not break anonymity for anybody except if it's a first-person submission. We are primarily a third-person reporting system." Student information is protected under the state and federal laws, Praino said, and 10-15 percent of the tips are 'Life Safety' tips and of that, only 4-6 percent will be imminent and only one percent---critical.

Superintendent Carpenter said each grade at the middle and high school will have an assembly---with trainers from the SHP and a target date of September 11. Central Consolidated School District will be in about two weeks. A principal from the Navajo Nation expressed concern about the logistics and response time for the program in remote areas. Praino said the language barrier issue was being addressed and that a lack of internet wouldn't hinder training. Asked about student clubs, she said, "They are what we call our secret sauce...because you give it to the kids and they take off with this. Part of our program is embedding...in an existing club...or we help you start a club." Grades six through twelve will be trained. With a paid staff of fifty-two at the office in Newtown, SHP employs field staff in the schools across the country. Praino said, "Our programs are in every state right now."

TALON asked Annie about her background. "I grew up in the Bronx, South Bronx...in a neighborhood where there was prostitution, drug abuse and gun shooting---I was taught to duck behind cars when you heard that...I've been around several deaths; I have a brother who completed suicide. I moved up to Sandy Hook years later after I had my children and now I have this history of being a part of the tragedy there." She knew only one Sandy Hook shooting victim but said it had a "great impact" on her family.

Maggie Dimas, Aztec High Student Council President, said, "I'd like to say there's a lack of parent involvement in the community...I can't tell you how many letters I've written...and it's like five parents show up---it's awful. Parents, I notice, don't talk to their kids. The older your kids get you need to communicate with them more, because your kids aren't going to tell you everything---we have a lot to manage, so much---it's crazy."

TALON asked Barden how long was Newtown in shock. He answered, "Well, I will always be in shock, so I mean our community was completely devastated. I have neighbors who are still in therapy and medicated because of the impact...so the ripple effect is profound and long-lasting." To the question of the difficulty in remaining there, he said, "My wife was ready to bolt." But their children said, "Why would we want to leave everything that we know?"

AHS Principal Dr. Warman Hall speaks to a rapt audience

Aztec High Principal, Dr. Warman Hall said, "We can be skeptical a lot with these kind of apps to let a kid report things---this one is uniquely different and better...because there's a human being on the other end they're talking to." Another man said, "This is not just changing our schools, we need to change our communities...this place should have been packed to the brim...so reach out to your neighbors, relatives---get on the website." About fifty people attended the meeting.

Mike Heal, Aztec Police Chief, said, "I am more familiar than some---it was three of my officers and myself that responded to the Aztec School shooting...so we know what's going on and I want to make sure no one ever has to do that."

Barden said, "We're essentially a mom and pop family shop and you can reach me there (website) directly...and we can start a dialogue so feel free to reach out...and I'll close with absolute, genuine, sincere, heartfelt thanks and appreciation for being here and giving us your time."

Sandy Hook Promise website: https://www.sandyhookpromise.org

 

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