From our Head of School

February 16, 2018 1:48 pm
posted by Brycie Strother

Dear DCS Montessori Community,

Welcome to Colorado winter, as the snow has finally decided to put in a few appearances, and my skis are enjoying rock-free runs (finally), and our students are in full gears of normalization. They have settled into routines and are making academic, as well as social-emotional, growth. It is a beautiful time of year, especially when waking up to a white, crystalline world on snowy mornings like today. Hopefully, each of us took a moment among our school-morning chaos – to enjoy the fresh snow’s beauty.

While I may have beauty on my mind, I say it with a heavy heart in reflection upon yet another tragic school shooting in Florida. Through the sadness, and questions of “Why?”, I find it important to communicate with our community in regard to all the ways we do our best to keep your students safe.

 

1) We are a locked-out school, where our entry access to our school is monitored and controlled every day. While parents and staff have fobs allowing automatic entry – we can turn off a fob at any time – simply let us know if you lose yours. You can also help by not allowing “tail-gating” which is when you allow another adult into our building.

2) We practice and drill for every emergency! Using the nationally-recognized Standard Response Protocol (SRP) {used throughout Douglas County}, our staff and students practice drill(s) every month of every school year. Our Crisis and Emergency Response Team (CERT) has built-in redundancy so no matter who is in, or out, of the building, we can execute our emergency procedures. Every classroom has built-in redundancy when a teacher or educational assistant is out – the other is present, meaning we have NO days when your child is in a room without an adult who hasn’t drilled routinely on our emergency procedures with your students.

3) Our Crisis and Emergency Preparedness Manual (CEPM) plans are reviewed and amended as necessary annually, both internally, and by the Douglas County School District (DCSD) Security in connection with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, who is a consistent partner that I can’t give enough respect and support to – they work hard and care deeply about our school, and our county’s, students. We have a SchoolSafe system, additionally, which direct-connects our walkie-talkies to Douglas County Emergency Responders in the event of a crisis situation.

While none of these measures is a fail-safe when it comes to a well-armed intruder, we believe strongly that our CERT team, who all have 9 or more years of service and dedication here at DCSM, are effectively managing as safe an environment as is possible in our setting. And yet, every year we add safety supportive features, like emergency interior blinds to our primary pod, and the transition to new classroom locks which enable our classrooms to lockdown more quickly.

When we step back and examine our students and the potential for mental instability which is often connected to such tragedies, we also have a host of existing and improved supports to ensure our students are well supported regarding mental health.

1) All students are instructed by our School Psychologist, Ms. Suzi Hackett, in conflict, social, and emotional management which includes anti-bullying methodologies.

2) Across our campus, there are less than fourteen students to every adult, where we maximize the connection opportunities for our students with a caring adult – which ensures students have someone to recognize when they’re struggling, and someone to go to when needed.

3) Our Response To Intervention (RTI) process, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) model, ensures that every teacher has a monthly collaborative problem-solving session with the administration and support professionals to bring students of concern into the broader school’s support system, gaining access to collaborative professional interventions and Mental Health supports when needed.

4) In our Middle School, our Director – Mr. Miguel – and his teaching team are implementing the research-backed Sources of Strength program which is purely aimed at supporting our Middle School students’ Mental Health needs through supportive adults, peers, and family connections. Additionally, we have hired a School Social Worker to our Middle School staff to increase student access to Mental Health services in this adolescent-time of critical need.

5) Our Montessori model of education is designed with problem-solving, whether academic, social or emotional, as a centerpiece to its classroom community. We want our students to embrace communicating about their problems, collaboratively finding solutions, and forging ahead with independent feelings of self-control. This idea of self-control is keyed-in by being able to avoid blaming the world or others for our problems and focusing on what we can control.

Again, we feel very strongly about our ability to support students who are in need of Mental Health support but want to encourage your communication about your student when things aren’t going well for them. While we might not be able to flip a switch and make it all better for them, we can certainly put our heads together and find out what works in regards to their support.

Finally, a brief note of understanding…events like this week in Florida are happening, in my view, because of two pieces of humanity: 1) the need to Belong, and 2) a culture of Blame that is in conflict with our need of Self-control.

1) “Belonging” is the third step on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs just above Physical and Safety needs. Our young children are comforted by their “Belonging” to our families and by classroom cultures where 30 students “Belong” to one classroom (and teacher). As humans enter adolescence, we enter larger school communities where one student rarely belongs to one school community – they may belong to many communities within the school – but there is more risk that the adolescent will not “belong” to a school community. Secondly, our young adults begin retreating, naturally, from their familial units desiring treatment as an adult they are yet to become. This natural transition is, like many other areas of human development, creating risk for the human psyche because they may act differently, trying to “belong” to one of many school communities, but have the reaction of no longer “belonging” to the familial unit. Schools have opportunities for students to belong, like sports teams, clubs, and cliques of friends, but when a student loses these connections, such as athletes getting injured or an adolescent making a social mistake and damaging their own relationships (which is normal), they may rather suddenly become lacking in the need to “belong”.

2) It is a rarity in modern American culture, for our models of society to display humble ownership for problems and interest in collaborative problem-solving. Instead, the general policy is to deny, never apologize, and find someone to blame, or sue, or take advantage of. As Montessori educators and parents, we recognize the human need to have control every day – allowing our students to fill that need in providing them choices in our classroom communities. The effort to Blame others for problems disarms our ability to have Self-control because we can not control others. Young adults of our secondary educational communities often lose control over their ability to “belong” – if cut from the team – or the leader of their social group denies their fitness in the clique – or their boy/girl/friend decides they like someone else better. Without a proper foundation, in accepting partial ownership and looking inward for the need to grow, improve, and alter their plan in exerting self-control over their need to “belong”, the young adult is left Blaming others that they can not control for the problem. With a little mental instability, the angered, isolated young adult, festering in their inability to “belong” blamed upon others – turns to violence as their only method of self-control, in the same way, many oppressed historical human populations eventually revolted against their oppressive government.

While it is our solemn Montessori goal to ensure every DCS Montessori students truly “belongs” to our classroom communities, and that our focus on student self-control and ownership provides the proper foundation for our students to be humble ever-growing, empathetic humans, it does not solve this greater problem in our world. If we as the American culture want to find solutions to school violence, then we will have to re-examine our secondary school models with an ideology of “inclusion” so all young adults meet their need to “Belong”, and do so whether or not the family unit can, and do so knowing our young adults will not always be kind to one another. What can you do to help? With your child, ensure they “belong” to your family- caution their opting out of family events, vacations, and work, as they age. Support their need to develop deep, trusting friendships – invite their friends over regularly, make time to get them to meetings with their friends – ensure that the friendship is in-person – not just online. Get them involved – athletics, clubs, volunteering – maximize their opportunities to “belong”.

If your student or child wants to talk with you about this or any such tragedy, then enter that conversation in an empathetic way that focuses on human’s need to “belong” and need for “self-control”, and let them know that hope resides in being kind. We can all help every day by modeling empathy, avoiding blame, taking ownership, helping others work through their problems…but simply put, be kind. You never know the impact you can have if you happen to be kind to the right person at the right time in their life.

Know that your student belongs here at DCS Montessori and that you belong as well.  As your child’s Montessori school, we take safety very seriously and welcome your suggestions and comments at admin@dcsmontessori.org, just put “Safety” in the subject line. Our staff will continue to serve your children academically, socially and emotionally, and help them grow into beautiful humans who will hopefully take a moment on mornings like today and enjoy the sight of beautiful white snow, with peace in their heart because they belong, a sense of self-control in this chaotic world, and kindness towards others.

Jeromy Johnson, Head of School

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