October 10, 2013

Prevention Goes Online

A new resource aims to help communities promote strength and prevent crisis

All members of a community work together to help kids succeed.

For schools in Albemarle County, Virginia, adding a “morning circle” to their daily routines is helping to build relationships between teachers and students, improving graduation rates and reducing negative behavior.

In Pueblo, Colorado, a new, more positive approach to school discipline is helping make disciplinary problems in the district a thing of the past.

And in Grossmont, California, team-building activities are bringing together students and community partners—including law enforcement—to reduce violence in the district.

These three districts have one thing in common—each received funding for these programs from Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS), an initiative designed to help foster safe and healthy school environments.

Teachers, administrators, and community leaders can now learn from these stories—and many more—thanks to a new online resource from EDC. Called PromotePrevent, this website is a compilation of resources on school and community health based on EDC’s 11 years of providing training and technical assistance to grantees through the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention.

The Grossmont, Albemarle County, and Pueblo school districts represent only a small sample of the 365 communities where the SS/HS program has made a difference. The stories, activities, and resources available on PromotePrevent can help even more communities confront issues such as bullying and positive school discipline—even if they have not received an SS/HS grant.

“We’re promoting the concept of sound behavioral and mental health in communities across the U.S. so that kids can grow up healthy and meet their potential,” says EDC’s Deb Haber, who directed the National Center. “The website lowers obstacles to understanding how to create real change in communities.”

Three steps, one direction

One of the highlights of PromotePrevent is its model for making progress, known as “Three Bold Steps.”

The Three Bold Steps model works on the premise that issues of school safety and student health, such as bullying, violence, and discipline, are complex and best resolved by creating collaborative partnerships. These partners most often include school personnel, mental health services, juvenile justice, and law enforcement. This approach can be transformative for communities where there isn’t a strong tradition of partnering in the implementation of programs and services.

“The whole concept behind Three Bold Steps is that there is a process for creating healthy communities that can be captured in three clear steps—partner, plan, act,” says Sue Vargo, one of the architects of the new website. “It’s a powerful concept because it can be applied to any problem facing children and youth in a community.”

And where Three Bold Steps is used, it works. In Amarillo, Texas, school leaders used this approach to connect mental health and law enforcement agencies to better serve students who were struggling with issues of bullying, gang violence, and depression at school.

“We believe that no one individual or system can do this alone,” says Vargo. “It has to be a school-community partnership. You have to look at all the different services and systems that come together to create an environment where kids live, learn, and grow.”

Tools for community leaders

In addition to 90 success stories and 43 videos, PromotePrevent contains extensive interactive resources for community leaders. Twenty-six scenario-based modules allow users to try strategies and receive feedback as they practice the skills needed to build healthy communities. Although the scenarios are fictional, the situations and characters are authentic.

Haber hopes that people will use PromotePrevent to practice their partnership and community change skills. She thinks the materials are appropriate for a wider audience, too—including community coalitions, school administrators, local government agencies, law enforcement, and juvenile justice officers.

“I think it will greatly contribute to communities’ ability to create lasting change for kids and their families,” she says. “It will have an impact.”