Building Community and Peer Relations for a Safer School
Unfortunately, we hear of too many stories of incidents that occur in our schools involving students that were not well connected or involved in the school community. These students often didn’t participate in school activities, socialize with other students, or connect with an adult when they needed help. Building a school community while promoting peer relations can help reach students experiencing such difficulties.
A community is defined as an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location, linked by common interests and policies.
In schools, the community consists of the school staff, students, parents, and community members. The ability to create joint partnerships with these members in order to benefit all members is the key to a successful school community. Start with forming an advisory committee consisting of members from each groups stated above. This committee can help build, communicate, and implement the vision and goals of the school community. Below are some suggested activities that involve the various community members and foster interaction among them, as well as promote Peer Relations.
- Get staff members to greet and interact with students regularly when they arrive, throughout the day, and at dismissal to monitor and observe student interactions in the hallways and common areas.
- Train all staff (teachers, counselors, administrators, and auxiliary staff) to identify and report unsafe behavior such as bullying, peer conflict, and possession of illegal or dangerous items.
- For students identified as needing individual attention due to peer conflict, isolation from peers, or needing frequent monitoring, have the counseling department offer individual or group counseling sessions to address their needs.
- When possible, incorporate good character lessons by highlighting biographies and other stories of people who exemplify good character.
- Involve the Theater Arts program in performing plays and stories that demonstrate student conflicts and effective ways of handling a variety of difficult situations.
- Create policies for new students that alleviate student and parent anxiety of a new school and culture. Schedule an orientation session with new families soon after enrollment to provide them with critical information about the school, helpful people, contact information, and available parent resources.
- Conduct a school fair early in the year that involves staff, students, and parent volunteers in order to foster community relations in a relaxed environment.
- Identify specific staff members to help students and let them know of whom they can go to for help (teachers, counselors, administrators).
- Encourage teachers to facilitate a Get To Know Me survey for students outlining the students’ likes/dislikes so they get to know their students better.
- Have faculty members visit incoming students at their present schools prior to coming to your school to introduce them to their new school. This helps them identify a familiar face on the first day of school. A best practice is to conduct a “summer camp” before school starts that allows students transitioning to a new campus to visit the school, walk through a daily schedule, get acquainted with the layout of the campus, learn about clubs, groups, and activities, and begin to make friends and connections.
- Provide information and training for the staff with regards to cultural awareness of their students, teaching to a variety of learning styles, and working with students with disabilities.
- Have teachers create buddy systems in the classroom so students can turn to each other for help and support.
- Designate a section of the library to offer students easy access to the biographies and other stories of people who exemplify good character.
- Teach and inform students how to identify and report unsafe behavior at school such as bullying, peer conflicts, and possession of illegal or dangerous items.
- Provide an anonymous reporting method for students in case they are fearful to report a concern or activity.
- Provide brief routine classroom lessons regarding the procedures for reporting unsafe behavior.
- Host events that celebrate the various cultures of the student body and display images of the various cultures so students can identify with the school.
- Offer a variety of opportunities for students to be involved in extracurricular activities aside from established programs such as athletics, cheer, theatre, band etc. For example: cooking club, book club, chess team, Lego club, and any other organization that appeals to students so they feel a part of the school. These can be sponsored by faculty, parents, or community members with interests in these areas.
- Elicit student participation in a school-wide peer mediation program that has students mediate conflicts. The peer mediators are trained by school staff and should be represented by a cross-section of the student body. This not only helps the mediators learn to problem solve conflict, but the students participating also learn similar skills. Having students mediate versus adult intervention can be powerful and effective.
- Conduct bullying prevention workshops for parents that provide them with tools and resources to work with their child at home and to report possible bullying concerns.
- Create an awareness program that encourages parents to report concerns their child may be experiencing at school to counselors, teachers or administrators, which could prevent future conflicts and concerns.
- Encourage teachers to facilitate a Get to Know Me survey for parents outlining important student information and details.
- Encourage parents to join your school PTO/PTA by stressing the importance of their opinion and feedback.
- Establish scheduled parent meetings, apart from PTO/PTA meetings, with specific topics that are helpful for parents (area resources for parents, effective behavioral strategies for the home, conflict management strategies for home, etc.).
- Create a parent volunteer program with specific activities that draw upon their individual strengths (computer skills, artistic skills, organization skills) in order to assist with campus activities and initiatives so they become more comfortable and involved in the school community.
- Publish a routine school newsletter with current events occurring at school, volunteer opportunities, student recognition, staff recognition, and lists of school and community resources.
- Provide parents with scheduled opportunities a few times a week to meet with teachers for help and questions regarding homework assistance in various subjects.
- Make yourself and your administrative team visible and available to parents for help and support.
- Invite specific community members to offer low or no cost services to parents in their areas of expertise, enabling parents to see the school as a resource.
- Have skilled community members present content in real-life situations to students as part of instruction in order to form partnerships within their community.
- Have identified and screened community members serve as tutors, mentors, and advisors to students as well as Career Day presenters.
- Have community members serve as part of the new student/family orientation process to help them transition into their new location.
- Locate business owners that will allow the school to display student exhibits such as art projects, student recognition awards, staff recognition, upcoming events, etc.
- Ask community members to help with school initiatives such as clean up around the school grounds, promote school activities, or provide supplies or materials for school functions (posters, drinks, food, coupons, etc.).
- Have student groups and organizations assist in civic events in the community.
By having all of the stakeholders in the school community involved in the school, interacting with one another and assisting each other, students are likely to be more connected and involved. As students connect to the school community and learn how to deal with conflict or difficult decisions, the more likely they will contribute to a safe school environment. It truly takes a community to help students feel safe and successful in schools today.