Dear Forest Hills Families,
My heart is aching with grief about yesterday’s tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. As an educator and a father, this news is so difficult to process and causes us to think about our own kids and the safety of our schools. I want to share with you three things today: Measures taken to improve school security and safety; steps we are taking to help students right now; and resources for parents and families about how to talk with kids about these tragedies.
Measures Taken to Improve School Security & Safety
Over the past several years, we have taken the following actions to improve the safety and security of our schools:
- Upgraded school entrances to control access to the building during school hours
- Electronic control and monitoring of all door access to all school buildings
- Upgraded and expanded high-definition camera monitoring system
- Tripled the number of school resource officers from the Kent County Sheriff’s Department who are assigned full-time to our schools
- Ongoing partnership with Secure Education Consultants, an external security firm that specializes in school security, assessments, planning, training, and monitoring
- Ongoing training of school staff to prevent, mitigate, and respond to school safety threats
- Tripled the number of mental health liaisons to assist staff members and families triage mental health issues, access mental health resources in the community regardless of insurance coverage, and develop on-going support plans for students
- Monitoring individual students who may show signs of struggling in school (attendance, decline in academic performance, behaviors) and reaching out to families to formulate a plan and provide assistance. Ongoing monitoring and additional supports are implemented until the original concerns are resolved.
- Additional, substantial security measures that remain confidential in nature (disclosing these measures could result in a loss of their effectiveness)
Current Actions FHPS is Implementing
In the wake of the tragedy in Texas, FHPS is doing the following:
- Coordinating additional road patrol deputies of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department (KCSD) to visit our school sites. You will see additional visible presence of KCSD patrol vehicles on our sites for the remainder of the academic year. This is simply a preventative measure; there are no specific threats to our schools.
- School staff will continue to celebrate student growth and end-of-the-year activities and milestones. Children do best when we can maintain routines and relationships. Staff will be available to respond to students individually or in small groups if students have questions or concerns about safety and security.
- At the elementary level, we will defer to parents about if, how, and when to process any of this news from Texas with their child(ren). School staff will not be sharing the news of the Texas tragedy with kids at school. At the secondary level, many students are already aware of this incident. Staff members will process student questions and concerns with discretion and focus students on measures that help build safety and security.
- Research continues to emphasize the vital importance of healthy relationships and the need to truly know our students, our neighbors, and our community. These relationships form the threads that weave together to create the fabric of our community. When we know one another on a deeper level, we are better able to offer support during times of struggle. Life has been hard for everyone these past few years. We want to avoid situations where people feel alone, alienated, and hopeless. Spreading kindness and helping others when in need makes for a safer school, neighborhood, and community.
- Using our federal COVID-19 relief dollars through a funding program known as ESSER III, we will place additional staff members at all of our schools to help students with additional academic and non-academic needs. The idea here is to remove barriers to learning and to ensure that all students are growing academically, socially, and emotionally in a healthy manner.
How to Talk to Kids and Additional Resources
It is hard to know how to process tragedies with children. We want to be there for our kids and emphasize the many people in our community that are here to help one another. To paraphrase Fred Rogers, when something bad happens, look for the helpers. We are fortunate to have helpers all around us. Here are additional resources for parents and families to use with your child(ren):
- Tips for Helping Students Recovering from Traumatic Events (Source: U.S. Department of Education)
- Talking to Children About School Shootings (Source: National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement)
- Living with Worry & Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty (Source: Psychology Tools)
- Talking to Children About Violence (Source: National Association of School Psychologists)
Please let your child’s teacher or school know if we can provide additional support or help in any way. You can always connect to any of our schools by dialing 616-493-8800. Safety and security come down to everyone working together. If you see something unusual, please say something. If you know someone is in need of help of any sort, please reach out to our schools and we will help to find support and resources.
Thank you for your continued support and partnership with FHPS to help all kids learn, grow, and thrive. We will continue to surround our kids with love and care.
Our thoughts and hearts are with the Uvalde community today and throughout their recovery.
With deep appreciation,