I’m comfortable with the fact that at least part of my legacy from my time at La Costa Canyon High will be the playing of Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” at the end of every evacuation drill. Echoing from the speakers above the athletic field, the song carries with it that pinch of whimsy that in many ways defines education. Even when the stakes are high, as they are with school safety, we do our best to keep our spirit and leave the audience with a smile.
And it is keeping these smiles, just over 900 of them at Diegueño Middle School, safe that informs our serious preparation and attention to detail around the important issue of school safety.
Schools are some of the safest places on the planet in part because of the plans we have and the ongoing practice we engage in. At least twice every year we practice for an evacuation, twice a year we conduct a lock-down drill, and twice a year we acknowledge the geological reality of Southern California and “duck, cover, and hold on.” We revise our Safe and Drug Free School plan each fall, collaborating with firefighters and police to make sure our plan is strong and up to date. We then share this plan with new and returning staff, spending time at the start of the school year to be sure everyone has the safety information they need. Preparation, coupled with common sense, is a huge part of keeping our campus safe.
The other element of school safety, as fundamental as fire extinguishers or evacuation maps, is each other. Building and nurturing a healthy school community, where students feel connected and parents are heard, where teachers truly are in locus parentis, and every Cougar at Diegueño knows he or she is part of a great family, our Diegueño pride.
Connected communities, whether neighborhoods or schools, are safer places than collections of strangers. Students and adults on campus make our school safe by noticing what’s around them and stepping in. This might mean telling Carlos, our plant manager, about a broken light, or mentioning to our counselor, Ms. Martin, that someone is feeling down. It might be a note to a teacher asking for help, or a phone call to “We-Tip” to report a crime. What it undoubtedly resembles is a family, where we each look out for one another, where we care, we nurture, we stand up for, and we protect each other. We’re all responsible for engaging in our campus world; we’re all made safer by our participation in our Diegueño family.
Reading through the plan this August, talking with friends at the firehouse, and arranging for the Sheriff’s Department to visit our first staff meeting, as principal I take this charge for safety seriously. Never have I felt so much like a dad.
It’s summer now, the time to burnish up that safety plan, meet with our Sheriff’s Department and firefighters, to prepare for the special presentations for the year, and work with our district personnel who also see safety as a top priority. We’re fortunate in our district to have leaders from the top to bottom who understand that safety is more than something we talk about; safety is something we live.
The really rewarding work of community building will come in late August when teachers and students return to campus. I’m excited about the commitment we have to helping helping students connect, and the plans already beginning to hatch that will bring Diegueño even closer in the fall. It’s then that we’ll build trust, share meaningful experiences, and be reassured that together we are one family, and we can dance if we want to.