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Building a Resilient School Environment

Safety protocols and active-shooter drills are becoming more and more common in today’s school environments. Sometimes, these drills can be emotionally tough or even triggering for students and staff.

McFadden Intermediate School in Santa Ana, California, has been part of a 2-year program focused on building a resilient school environment for students and staff at its campus. RISE — short for Resilience In Schools Environments — implements policies, practices and trainings to help the school students and staff adapt to and deal with challenges, trauma and emotionally charged experiences.

RISE is an initiative of Los Angeles Education Partners funded by Kaiser Permanente.

During the first year of the program, McFadden’s staff were trained to approach daily school life with greater sensitivity to trauma and its effects on social and emotional health. They worked at developing a community culture by coming together as colleagues to connect, learn and share. Together, they created a resource guide to support students and staff as they worked to build up resilience.

Making a positive impact with Safety Day

McFadden school staff member proudly shows off her Safety Day badge.

With the start of the new school year, school staff proposed a different approach to the school’s annual review of safety protocols and practices. Instead of simply watching safety videos, the school wanted to make the training more applicable and engaging while being mindful of those who might be negatively affected by scenes or reminders of trauma.

With input from the teachers, and approval of the district union, the school planned a “Safety Day.” School staff developed a strategy and manual to guide a full day of training through a trauma-informed lens.

The Safety Day, held in August, included carefully performed evacuation practices and drills. A “calm station” for students was available throughout the day to help students deal with their fears and emotions as they moved through the safety drills. Following the drills, a final period was dedicated to team building and debriefing with students.

Working together for wellness

McFadden school partnered with local law enforcement for Safety Day.

Judee Fernandez, the Los Angeles Education Program coach, was on site to support the RISE leadership team as they led a professional development session for staff, focusing on restorative practices at the close of the day.

“It was remarkable to see everyone working in sync,” said Fernandez. “The calm station truly felt calm and comforting, and the reflection activities with students at the end of the day were fun and relaxing. There was so much forethought about creating trauma-informed practices to support the students and adults on campus that it was truly evidence of wellness in both practice and belief.”

Working together as a school made Safety Day not only tangible, but also practical, as school staff worked collectively to plan the trainings.  Teachers and staff used the learnings to revamp important safety drills as well as a sense of community and shared experience within the school. Approaching Safety Day in this way strengthened the learnings and impact, while ensuring everyone on site felt emotionally supported.

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