We live in a changing world, where violence is a daily reality and new threats are constantly developing and filtering into our children's schools. Here's what Rockford school leaders are doing to keep the peace in an increasingly unstable society.
"All the time I hear about gang members and drugs, all about that," says Kennedy Middle School student Ronaldo Fort.
Comments like that and a series of violent incidents in Rockford schools, from a bomb threat at West Middle School, to serious fights at Jefferson and East and a stabbing at Auburn's freshman campus have many parents asking: just how safe are our kids when they step off the bus? Now the Rockford district is stepping up efforts to ensure the safety of all kids in any situation.
"Your imagination is the only limit and every day is an example of what can happen," says Fred Diehl, the Rockford school district's newly hired emergency manager.
Using a 450-thousand dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, he's helped streamline communication between the district and emergency responders and he's been holding training sessions to make Rockford educators stretch their imaginations and their preparedness for emergencies.
"What would you do if a vapor cloud was coming to your school heading north, wow," says Pamela Laughlin, the principal at Marsh Elementary School.
Once presented with a situation, principals and their staff had to come up with an incident command system, alternative evacuation sites and effective methods of communicating.
"We've seen in recent history that schools that have been victims of hostile situations never dreamt that their communities would be in that situation. So you just have to be prepared for that," says Laughlin.
Having a better idea of who's inside the school at all times is one of the most important parts of school security. Now every school in the district is supposed to always have doors locked or guarded and most have some kind of camera or intercom technology.
"I do a walk around myself every morning," says Laughlin and she's on the look out for more than unlocked doors and unknown faces: "We do have a no bullying policy. We take it very seriously."
It's important to catch kids early, because the bullies of today can get into more serious trouble down the road.
"We know students have a way of bringing weapons into the school and drugs, etcetera and because of that anything can break out, gangs etcetera," says Angela Carter, principal at Roosevelt Alternative High School. She adds, "What you're seeing in the schools is basically a result of what's in society. A lot of our children are going through so much. People just don't realize what we deal with every day and it is a direct result of what's happening out there."
Carter's job is to make sure what's out there doesn't filter in and disrupt the school. So she and her security staff conduct periodic checks for weapons and they teach kids to make the right choices to steer them away from gangs, other dangers they've seen and those they're just beginning to imagine.
All teachers and principals have now gone through emergency response training. The next step is to bring those tactics to the school-wide level. The district will start holding drills to make sure schools are ready to respond. District leaders are also working on ways to inform parents instantly when an emergency occurs.