The impact of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative in the Hazelwood School District has made a difference for students and families in many ways.
In 2008, HSD was selected by the U.S. Department of Education to receive a $6 million Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The four-year grant supports efforts in creating safe learning environments that promote healthy childhood development, preventing youth violence and drug abuse. It allowed HSD to better address concerns such as social and emotional behavior and mental health.
This school year marks the fifth year since receiving the grant. The District did not receive additional funds for 2012-2013, but is able to use remaining funds to achieve its goals.
Dr. Maxine Valdez, director, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, said the District will be able to sustain several programs after the grant ends.
The programs include Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS); mentoring; the Mendez Foundation’s Too Good for Drugs; non-violent crisis prevention intervention training; mental health services in partnership with agencies such as BJC Behavioral Health, Lutheran Family and Children’s Services and others; and behavioral, social and emotional support programs such as Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) and Second Steps: Student Success Through Prevention.
To address bullying, elementary students experienced Ray Amanat’s workshop, H.E.R.O.E.S. in Action. The acronym stands for Helping Everyone Resist Oppression Everyday Safely. Throughout 2010-2011, middle and high school students experienced Shakespeare St. Louis’ anti-bullying lessons, “Cruel to Be Kind.” In 2009-2010, Students Taking Action (STA), a youth advisory group in HSD, created a public service announcement focused on bullying. The PSA demonstrates bullying, how to ask for help from an adult, and encourages students to stand up for others and to stop bullying. It is broadcast on HSD-TV, the District’s cable channel. A link to the PSA is on the District’s website. DVD copies are available at each school.
STA also received recognition from the St. Louis County Department of Health for a video entry in a youth anti-smoking campaign. The video earned third place.
To enhance professional development for staff, the grant helps with training such as the Summer Safety Symposium. It focuses on issues such as Internet crimes, sexting, bullying, emergency management and threat assessment. The PBIS Summer Symposium, in collaboration with the National Center for Youth Issues, includes classroom management techniques and tools, intervention training, action planning and more.
The impact of the grant is continually evaluated, yet a significant difference has been shown in mental health services.
“The Hazelwood Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative has provided one-on-one mental health services to more than 1,600 students since the beginning of the grant,” said Susan Depue, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“Parents reported their children showed improvements after receiving counseling services,” said Valdez.
Depue noted that HSD has exceeded targeted goals in reducing alcohol and drug use, and differences are being made in the number of students who report being involved in a fight in the last school year.
Valdez explained how the grant has impacted HSD staff.
“Based on the 2011-2012 School Climate Survey, the staff felt there has been significant improvement in many areas, including schools promoting academic success, the adults caring about every student, believing that every student can be a success, and student tobacco use and violence related student activities,” she said.
“Additionally, staff stated that the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative helped the schools provide more services for prevention of students’ mental health problems and linking students and families with community resources,” Valdez continued.
After-school activities for students were influenced by the grant, too, such as Girls on the Run and Wyman Teen Outreach Program. Other activities include math, reading and science clubs, homework centers, tutoring and credit recovery, diversity clubs such as Leaders for Social Justice, and FIRST Lego League. Each year, participation in after-school programs increased, starting at 660 students in the first year and growing to 3,560 in 2011-2012.
“When students and staff feel safer, there is more of a connection to school. Students are more apt to attend, display less aggression and fewer disruptive behaviors. The grant and the programs have influenced our students and staff in many ways,” said Valdez.