Austin schools preparing for, preventing tragedy

Published 9:54 am Friday, January 17, 2014

By Sheri Willrodt

Austin Public Schools Director of Special Services

Many school districts have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with the tragic loss of students and staff to accidents or suicide in the past several years. In an effort to increase our capacity to respond to these types of crises, Austin Public Schools is sponsoring a series of trainings in the PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention program. The PREPaRE method of crisis response was developed by the National Association of School Psychologists, and is utilized by many school districts throughout the state and country. Austin has secured trainers from the University of Wisconsin — River Falls to lead the training, and has invited other area districts to attend, as well, to facilitate increased collaborative efforts. The first training, “Crisis Intervention and Recovery: The Roles of School-Based Mental Health Professionals,” took place on Jan. 2 and 3. This two-day workshop provides school-based mental health professionals and other school crisis intervention team members with the knowledge necessary to meet the mental health needs of students and staff following a school-associated crisis event. With updated research and crisis intervention strategies, this workshop teaches participants how to prevent and prepare for psychological trauma, helps to reaffirm both the physical health of members of the school community and students’ perceptions that they are safe and secure, evaluates the degree of psychological trauma, responds to the psychological needs of members of the school community, and examines the effectiveness of school crisis intervention and recovery efforts.

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In June, the second training, “Crisis Prevention and Preparedness: Comprehensive School Safety Planning,” will be held. This one-day workshop provides school-based mental health professionals, administrators, security professionals, and other educators the knowledge and resources to help them establish and sustain comprehensive school safety, crisis prevention and preparedness efforts. With updated research and strategies, this workshop makes a clear connection between ongoing school safety and crisis preparedness. It emphasizes the unique needs and functions of school teams and the steps involved in developing these teams, including a model that integrates school personnel and community provider roles. The workshop also explores how to prepare for school crises by developing, exercising, and evaluating safety and crisis plans.

Of course, prevention of tragedies is always in the forefront of our minds. When tragedy does strike, however, we want to be prepared to be as supportive as possible to students, staff, and the community.