Security, Safety and the School Environment

Counseling In Schools discusses safety and security in schools

Security, Safety and the School Environment

Security, Safety and the School Environment

Katherine Potts
Welcome back, everyone, to Awakin. This is your host Kat Potts and today I am joined again by Mr. Kevin De Hill, who is the Executive Director and licensed clinical social worker at counseling and schools.

And we’re also joined by Miss Shana Bennett, social worker supervisor at PS is 171.

Today we’re going to be talking about navigating safety concerns in a school environment for students, the impact on students, the effect on teachers, as well as just the sort of nuances that happen when you have students coming from a household with different views on what is safety look like? Right? So we may have the sort of state-mandated rules, right. But then you might have some students show up and feel a little bit differently.

Kevin Dahill-Fuchel
We are seeing a range of experiences that people have, and we see, not just within the student body and the families, but also within, you know, the staff working in schools. And there’s certainly a heavy emphasis on compliance with the protocols. But that kind of compliance doesn’t necessarily mean that people are fully bought in and even feel like those protocols are optimally protecting them or are the right ways to protect them. It’s a field to navigate for everyone in the school community, from the children to the staff, where there’s just a lot of need for communication and conversation to come to a common understanding. That is what you want to do on any number of issues. This one becomes very personal and private, almost how you feel about this.

Shana Bennett
I see a mixture of feelings and experiences; I see a lot of fear, and I see some anxiety for sure. So today is the first day here in New York that the mask mandate is lifted, so folks at school can choose not to wear a mask. I saw some parents a little bit nervous because they wanted to give their kids the freedom of not choosing not to wear their masks, but they were also nervous about what that would mean. And others were not okay with their kids keeping their masks off. Others who like – finally!

I think there is a mixture of feelings and experiences. I also see, you know, kids, even in preparation for this change on Friday, they were some of them were a little bit anxious, particularly the ones that were affected by COVID in different ways and had their own anxieties that arose. As a result of, you know, when we were at the height of the pandemic, they they develop some pretty severe anxieties. And so there was a lot of fear about what this would mean if people came in with this, with the masks off. So I think another big thing is just the constant shifting the constant change. We know, in our work that stability, some source of consistency is so important in developing trust, particularly with kids. And as we know, in the last two plus years, there have been such shifts not just with COVID, but with a variety of things. And so we’re seeing how that is impacting the children as well as the kids. So I definitely see a range of feelings there. So especially in approximate vaccination, there’s just so much going Come on,

Katherine Potts
would you say that in as in like a classroom setting? Are you seeing that impacting how children are learning? Right? Because at the same time did you have kids come in that it’s like, there’s so much tension around this mask thing. And this, these safety concerns where it’s like, you’re spending more time possibly, like trying to focus on keeping the masks on and you are like teaching them the lesson.

Shana Bennett
I think that people have adjusted, I think, at this point in the year, we this, there has gotten into some form of flow. So now kids know, well, you know, now things have changed today. But kids kind of know, about keeping their mask up. And so there’s less of a focus now on the mask part, but more of a focus on getting kids up to their, their academic level. Because of that, that space that we’ve missed for so long.

Katherine Potts
That there’s such a good point you brought up because Kevin and I, in our last conversation, we’re talking a bit about that, where there’s a lot of pressure now because you’re trying to balance, you know, like these mandates, and how are these personal experiences for these kids and these teachers, but then also like, now, academically? Where are they I was just talking to a mother yesterday, and he was telling me that she’s like, I barely knew how to, you know, teach my son the math at home. And then like, now, it’s like, he’s worried about getting sick. And now he’s behind in his math class, like, you know, there’s so much of that pressure, that it’s like, as counselors it’s like, and as a social worker, like, what are some things that we can do? Because even though Yeah, we may be in a place now, where the pandemic isn’t as heavy in terms of like, there’s some level of normalcy, there’s this sort of, like, afterglow, I’ll call it where it’s like, what do we do now? How do we get these children and kids to a place of comfort, and to a place where they’re, like, academically striving? Because there’s that too, you know, we can’t just like hold a bunch of kids back or, or make any child feel less than because, you know, they may have not had the support at home to teach them things in the way that they needed in order to take a test, for example.

Kevin Dahill-Fuchel
Yeah, I think I mean, I think one of the things that’s easy to lose, in this sort of feeling of return to normalcy, like I was with some people over the weekend, and someone said, man, it feels like like his COVID over. We all just kind of laughed, because no, we know it’s not. And for people, you know, for so many of our students in our communities, and I don’t know Shane and the community that you work in, but you know, the disproportionate number of deaths of family members, the number of of children who have lost grandparents or parents or brothers or uncles or cousins, is just I think we’re still just kind of like grappling with that. So I mean, I think to say that, well, because we can take off a mask, we’re ready to now focus on the math, like misses the fact that just to Shane as point, that student taking off, the mask is worried because someone in their family died because of this disease. And they were told for the last two years, that this mask is what you can do to sort of help protect you and your family. And now they’re going to sort of think, well, what’s really like, am I still doing this? Do I not do that. And now I also dealing with my grief and my loss and my family’s reconstitution, or however it’s come together. So I, I think that the path forward really is going really more even more deeply into the emotional wellness, social skill development. This might be a little controversial to say, but it might lead us more towards a little bit of social promotion. I think we can catch up intellectually, at some point, like, I’ll just use as another little bit like digressed example, right? Like, you know, I’m of a certain age, I didn’t get to like algebra and that kind of stuff until I was in high school, kids are learning that stuff in like seventh and eighth grade. I did okay, learning it in high school, I think we can kind of push it off a little bit. You don’t have to get to the beggary in theory, where you’re maybe 16 years old, if you didn’t get it when you were 10. But I don’t think you can really catch up that much. If you feel like the world is a scary place. And you don’t know if anyone’s there to protect you. And people are dying, and you don’t know what to do and you’re feeling desperate. Like that’s going to have an impact. It’s going to be really hard to recover, that I’d really rather spend our focus and time on now and help kids move forward socially through different grades. And then knowing that we’re not saying ignore the rest, but but just don’t make that like, oh, that now we have to go back and do all like that really concerns me.

Katherine Potts
Yeah, and I think that’s fair, because you really gave me the chills. Kevin, when you brought up the fact that taking off that mask could have really triggered mama for somebody. So now it’s like you can’t ignore what that reaction could be for someone and then what are the potential reactions of people around them? Um, you know, I’ve been in stores and places where people are very blunt and upfront about somebody wearing a mask, you know, very vocal and sort of ostracizing people sometimes for wanting to protect themselves. And I can’t even imagine what that could look like in a school setting, to your point where you’re triggered by that trauma. And no, we can’t just go learn how to do algebra now. Because how is that kid going to even focus on anything, when they are trying to balance emotions that are a lot for kids, I would assume as a social worker, and as a counselor, I mean, that’s a lot of even as an adult, we’re still trying to learn how to navigate our own emotions, but now we’re expecting that of a child.

Shana Bennett
Yeah, I think I think something that is important is I love what Kevin said. And I’m, I’m with you, Kevin, on how they should move forward. Obviously, have bias there. But I do think that where the challenge comes into play, is getting the schools to buy into that, because I do think that, you know, they were all on different. We come from a social work perspective, and from a mental health perspective, whereas they’re trying to push these academics, get them on a particular academic level push, now we have these state tests that are coming up. And I think that it’s crucial for us all to be on the same page in terms of overall What’s that priority? What’s, what kind of what comes first the chicken or the egg, so we can get someone on the academic level. But if they’re not socially and emotionally ready to function in a world that has so much going on, they can be academically on level, but if they’re socially and emotionally behind, that could set them up for some trouble. So I think if we could all be on the same page in terms of how we support and what are we really pushing, I think that will help us to all work together to support these kids, on a higher level.

Kevin Dahill-Fuchel
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense, Shana. And I think the challenge as always, is to sort of not the sort of NIT and I kind of went there, I think a little bit not be so much all or nothing, right. Like, you, as you were speaking, I was thinking about, you know, there are some students or some children, who in the context of COVID, and everything else, sort of accelerated their, you know, their, their focus on learning or moved away from the emotional for reasons that, you know, might have been overwhelming, and they were able to, you know, find comfort in, you know, in reading or in other types of pursuits that would would align them to be more successfully academically. So you wouldn’t want to take that away, you’d want to acknowledge that you want to use sort of, you know, the academic pursuits as a part of the healing process, not not as counter to the healing process. And also understand, then those students who may not do any of that, like, that’s where I guess where my heart goes first, because I feel like, you know, someone gets labeled a failure in something, and they just like hanging out on their neck on top of everything else, and death and loss and stuff. Like that’s just such a hard yoke to ever remove. But But I don’t think we need to go all or nothing, I think we can pay attention to those students. But it’s maybe it’s not just, you know, it’s the focus of the of the system. And it’s also a bunch of salsa continuing to try to say like, let’s keep a balanced perspective, let’s not rush all the way into one thing or another only. And somehow I think it’s our job, because that this part of the work, or this part of growing up, has been kind of devalued in schools for so long, right now it’s valued. And so what we don’t want to do is just have it kind of completely get lost, but I think we have to raise our voices to keep it present without like, trying to make it a battle. Right, without that and against the academic piece, but just making sure we don’t sort of lose that legitimacy or the, the real need that’s there.

Katherine Potts
And it makes me think, to like, what role can the parents play? I mean, of course, there’s controversies that are coming from different households, but what um, you know, what are some things that you all think that parents could do to kind of stay neutral in a way because that’s like, we’ve talked a little about it that’s kind of hard for a student to because Even if you know counselors and the school from an academic standpoint are coming together, right, it’s like, now they have this third party, that could be saying something completely different. So I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity there for parents. And what I wonder to what could that look like for everybody to kind of come together? And what could that was that like, sort of like school town halls? Like, what are some ways that everybody could kind of like, get on the same page about this where no one feels like they’re trying to push their own political agenda, personal agenda? Because there’s that too, right. That you traumas that people are the not just the kids are experienced with their parents and how that projects onto them?

Kevin Dahill-Fuchel
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, setting up those kinds of, I would call it community conversations. You know, and they can happen in schools, but But you might also think about them happening, not in schools, you know, like, one of the things I think, is sometimes not considered quite the way I would think it could be effective, let’s say a school, a school sponsors a community meeting in an outside environment. So let’s say the community of psi is 171, goes to a community center to sponsor a conversation. So you kind of take it out of the school building, which when you do that, you kind of relieve people of the sort of the dominance of city, you know, the city hierarchy that many people feel like they need to push against, versus having a conversation where it is so complicated, there’s so many different points of view. And if you set it up in a way that people just know, their voices are going to be heard without there being one dominant player, you know, at least that the process, I mean, it would be it would be more than one townhall more than one community conversation, right, but at least it could take some shape. And then I don’t know what you think of anything like that happened at psi is 171 shame.

Shana Bennett
I think that they do such a great job with making sure that apparent voices are heard as well as student voices. I think one thing that they do well, as well as like the Create at the I believe it’s like monthly conversations with the parents can get involved. And we also have a wellness team meeting that the parents are on, so that it’s not, you know, we are not defining wellness based off of just that perspective, but that the parent and the children, actually student counselors on that wellness team meeting as well. I think that is super important. Because you have different stakeholders within the community, on one team, deciding what wellness looks like for the community at large. And we know that wellness, there are like seven or eight dimensions of wellness, that wellness is not just about social media, how can we look at it and work to fully support the fullness of what wellness looks like? I think another thing that is important that we incorporate CIS incorporated within the community, we did a week did basically a survey to understand where our families are, as well as our staff, mental health wise, so what’s going on for them? And how can we as a community support them? I think that that’s another thing so that we can generate some stats that say, actually, this is where folks are. And this is actually what compared to this way, we’re not necessarily assuming but people are telling us where they are, what they need and how we can support it. So I believe that is another way to move forward. That’s great.

Katherine Potts
Well, yeah, that’s really interesting, too, because that could defining wellness, right, that can look different for different schools and different places. You know what I mean? Because a lot of times, I think, more recently, in the past, probably five to 10 years, there’s been more emphasis on how wellness looks different for everybody, every individual, but if you can kind of measure that, like by school by community, then we can almost customize, what does that plan look like? Because I think sometimes people do have sort of pushback on this, like one size fits all kind of approach. And that’s where people can feel like, Oh, he’s a little bit bias or, you know, that may have that’s just what they think over there. We don’t align with that, because he experiences in different areas, you know, and different backgrounds that people come from will impact what will work for them and it’ll work for their students. So it’d be very interesting to see what that would look like doing something like that on like a broader level, the surveying and sort of being able to look at those measurements and make the decisions based on based on that rather than sort of the assumption, and that probably to your point earlier, Kevin, would help everybody kind of get on the same page and meet in the middle. So there’s like less tension of, you know, trying to get everybody to the same academic level and leaving behind the emotional or vice versa.

Kevin Dahill-Fuchel
Right. Right. And every school community is certainly different. And I think when you allow those voices in just just as you said, I think you have, you know, more of a, an alignment and buy in to the process. And there isn’t one, you know, sort of dominating factor. I mean, you just, I think one of the things that happened in the politicizing of the COVID protocols was there was there was just a sense that there was a power structure that was imposing something versus a public health sort of consensus that was able to be reached. And, you know, I think on a national level, that’s very difficult to think about. But on a small community level, it’s not so difficult to think about and what, you know, what you did at the school there, Shana is demonstrates that I have asked questions, people give answers, and then you respond accordingly. And that just people feel, I mean, not just it’s not just a feeling, it’s that you are a part of coming together with what you’re going to do. It’s it’s much more sort of community based,

Katherine Potts
right? And accurate to because you’re actually making your decisions based on the feedback that you’re getting. And to your point, again, Kevin around the pod, the politics part of it that played such a huge role where it was almost like people were losing compassion for each other on an emotional level, because of the sort of propaganda that was out there that that’s really what was driving people to feel one way or do something over the other versus like, how, how is this really affecting people just as they are nothing else. So the opportunity Shana, that you you’re creating, in that kind of idea, I’d love to be able to see that sort of in other places. And I think that’s a great way that counselors can get involved. And what did that look like to be able to kind of set something like that up? And really, honestly, I’d love to continue talking about this, like this idea around wellness looking different for everybody. Because like that, to me is like a whole nother conversation, especially when we’re talking about COVID. And just like, generally, the mental health of children and staff. Because that’s just like such a facet that people like don’t get, they’re like, Okay, we’re gonna give them this, we’re gonna give them a mask that should make them feel better. We’ll give them extra time we’ll put their desk far apart, that’ll make them feel better, like is it that’s like the streamlined like, streamlined way and works for everybody. So if I had another 2040 minutes to talk to you both more about that, I definitely would. So I have to have you both back on. But before we kind of close out, are there any a couple golden nuggets, one from you, Kevin and one from you, Shana, like something that you can just kind of recommend to counselors or to schools, she and I know you just gave a huge one. But if there’s, if there’s anything else, for our audience,

Shana Bennett
I think for me, the the biggest thing that comes up for me in this moment is the power of connection, I really do believe that that’s something that was lost a little bit during the pandemic. And I’ve seen how it has enhanced our students growth process, even, even just in the last few months. And so I would just encourage folks, counselors, families, whoever, that to enhance the power of like connection, and never underestimate the power of connection. So whatever way you can get that, I think that that would help in a lot of in a lot of ways. And know that connection, does not have to be super complex is just in being like allowing us to just be allow our children to be kids and inspiring any form of connection and conversation. I think that that would help them to push us forward and just inspire us to be kinder to each other and to love ourselves and to love others.

Kevin Dahill-Fuchel
The I mean, no Mic drop. Yeah, I love that. I love everything you just said, you know, saying I think that’s right on the money. And what I was thinking about, you know, was one of our, one of our many mantras inside of counseling in schools applies broader, which is sort of never work in isolation. And I think that, you know, we think about that in our in our work in schools, but I think about that as a parent, you know, like, Don’t isolate myself from other parents don’t you know, when I think I’m the only one, realize I’m not the only one like, it’s not like my situation may be unique. And, oh, I’ve got this, and I’ve got that. But you know what, there are other people who are connected to your point, you know, to those experiences that we can work through together. And together, it’s going to be better than trying to figure it out on my own. So I just, I always want to sort of say to, to school communities, like you, your community, your people in your community, or your asset, to be utilized and speak up and call your school or go to a PTA or just even go down the hall where you know, there’s another parent with the child in the same school and like, just have coffee and talk about it, like, don’t keep it in, talk about it, get out of the isolation, make those connections. And I think, you know, there’s no easy answers, but but that process will be lead somewhere, that will be much better than if you try to just go it alone.