Building safe and supportive school environments

Many people who grow up in Maine experience small town pride and friendly neighbors, which helps create a welcoming community in a school. School is considered a place that is safe because there are caring adults, supportive friends, and opportunity through extra-curricular activities to explore interests.  No matter where a student lives though, today some students feel they are not safe at school. Some feel they do not all have supports, and some feel they are not given opportunities to shine through unique experiences.

Maine Department of Education’s Student Assistance Coordinator Sarah Ricker provides information and resources designed to support parents and schools in order to assist in promoting and developing a safe and supportive school environment. One key task in providing support is to work with data from various sources.

One source, the 2015 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, reports that on average, 91.5 percent of Maine students feel safe at school. This is good news; however, the data also reveals areas that need attention:

  • Close to 50 percent of students in grades five through eight identify that they have been bullied on school property.
  • Nearly 24 percent of high school students report that they have been bullied within the past 12 months. That’s one out of four students.
  • Finally, nearly half of our middle and high school students report that school rules are not enforced fairly.

Ricker says, “With collaboration and consistent messaging, Maine schools can triumph to assure all students feel safe in their schools and that bullying incidents decline with consistent implementation of school rules and comprehensive policies. Reporting and investigating bullying situations is critical and necessary to ensure that students feel safe, feel that rules are consistently applied, and feel that they won’t encounter more sadness from bullying.”

To support all SAUs, the Maine DOE Bullying Prevention website is a valuable resource which includes all necessary components of a comprehensive bullying policy, including reporting forms that align with procedures defined in the law and outlined in the DOE model policy. This policy is in accordance with the law: An Act To Prohibit Bullying and Cyberbullying in Schools.

Some students are being proactive in their quest to prevent bullying. A student at C.K. Burns School in Saco created a superhero club that all students in the school have joined. Also, two students from Maranacook Middle School have reached out to Maine DOE for guidance about bullying prevention strategies for their school.

There was a slam dunk message recently at Hall Elementary School in Portland. The Harlem Globetrotters offered not only an entertaining basketball show but a message about “The ABCs of Bullying Prevention.” Principal Dawn Kenniston recalled the students’ reaction to the anti-bullying program as “awesome and enormously engaging.”

“With efforts like these and attention to following the law, collectively, we can continue to work to provide safe learning environments for all students,” says Ricker.

For support in creating comprehensive bullying policy and procedures, contact Student Assistance Coordinator Sarah Ricker at sarah.ricker@maine.gov or call 624-6685.