School safety main talking point within Tahoma

Superintendent Tony Giurado discusses steps the district is taking to ensure school safety.

Tahoma School District Superintendent Tony Giurado is taking steps to ensure safety at all the schools within the district.

Before coming to Tahoma, Giurado worked in the Jeffco Public School District — the same school district as Columbine High School.

When the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, Giurado worked in the district as an assistant principal at one of the elementary schools.

Giurado’s main focus is mental health and he said he believes school safety all comes down to mental health and wellness for students and the community.

“I think it starts with us as a community recognizing that mental health is a community issue and it’s something that is important as a community to come together to address,” Giurado said. “We need to see what we can do for our students here at Tahoma because we’re committed to meeting the needs of the whole child. Academics, behavior, mental health and wellness. But as a community, we need to come together to work on this problem.”

According to Giurado, there are some unmet mental health needs requiring attention not only a district level, but also the community, state and nationwide.

He said he thinks Tahoma is setting the stage for them to work with the community in order to bring awareness about mental health and to address the need of more resources.

Tahoma is Future Ready

The district’s motto is “Tahoma is Future Ready.” Giurado said school safety and wellness starts with the Tahoma vision.

The first aspect to the vision is “knowledge and experiences.”

Giurado said this means giving students what they need to move on from high school and to give them a lot of options once they’ve graduated.

The next part to the vision is to provide students with “future ready skills.” Giurado said these skills are essential for students to navigate through this rapidly changing world that we live in.

The last aspect is for students to have a future ready plan, that way students know what they’re going to do next.

“One of the things we try to do is have tiered support for our students around these three areas, academics, behavior, mental health and wellness,” Giurado explained. “In order for us to be successful with academics, our students needs around behavior, mental health and wellness need to be met. If they are not getting their needs met here, then it’s harder for them to learn and in some cases they are not able to learn.”

Healthy Environment

In order for students to be able to follow the three aspects of being a Future Ready student, their school environment needs to healthy and positive, Giurado said.

He said they’re seeing an increase of younger students who are displaying behavior changes in the classroom that teachers are perceiving as more challenging.

In order to provide a healthy and positive school environment, Giurado said the district has implemented many programs to help address behavior problems in the classroom and to keep students focused on learning.

An example of one of the programs used in the classroom at the elementary level is called PBIS, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.

“PBIS is a school wide program to teach our student positive behaviors and then to recognize them, call them out when students do those positive behaviors, reward them. So there’s public acknowledgment, rewards for kids, but there’s of teaching, reinforcing and consistency,” Giurado explained.

According to Wendy Castleman, communication specialist at the district, PBIS is a nationwide program and is not just used at the Tahoma School District.

Giurado said each school has what’s called a “problem solving team.” This team comes up with a support plan for students at the schools.

The problem solving teams are paid for by local levy funds and are not funded by the state, Castleman said.

“We think they’re important so we invest in those positions at every building and they’re really vital,” Castleman said.

An example of a PBIS plan from Rock Creek Elementary School is called the RC-3’s.

According to a letter sent out to parents, the RC-3’s are:

1. Show Respect — A positive attitude and appropriate behavior creates a fun, safe school.

2. Make Good Decisions — Strive to be a kind, caring person by doing the right thing.

3. Solve Problems — Treat others the way you want to be treated.

When students at Rock Creek follow the PBIS plan, they are recognized for doing good and rewarded, which encourages good behavior, Giurado said.

Teachers at Rock Creek Elementary School, Lake Wilderness Elementary School and Shadow Lake Elementary School are also hosting a book study based off a book called “Fostering Resilient Learners.”

“What we’re finding is that in the past, our teachers without the knowledge around the research around trauma sensitive classrooms were operating on a false assumption that the students were just choosing to make poor choices,” Giurado said.

He said teachers learn strategies on how to help students with self regulations and to get back to the rational part of their brain if they end up acting out in class due to trauma.

The book teaches teachers how to identify the triggers and how to handle students going through trauma.

High school teachers will be watching a documentary called “Angst.”

The goal of the documentary is to help teachers identify and understand symptoms of anxiety in teenagers.

To learn more about all programs like these offered in the district, contact the district’s main line at 425-413-3400.

Partners

Giurado said the district has partnered with the city in previous months to do a workshop called R.E.A.D.Y, Real Emergency Aid Depends on You.

R.E.A.D.Y is a mental health awareness workshop that NEXUS Youth and Families organized.

In that workshop, the district had NEXUS include some information about suicide in teenagers because of the events that occurred at the beginning of the school year when one previous student and one current student took their own lives.

In a slideshow presented by NEXUS, it stated one in five teens ages 13 to 18 years have or will have a serious mental illness and that suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 24 years of age.

“We do think if we work together as a community, we can overcome come of those challenges and really make a difference, but it’s going to require a community wide effort at the school level, community level and the state level to make some significant headway,” Giurado said.

In the slideshow, it talked about major warning signs of mental health issues as well. Including but not limited to, sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, not eating, difficulty concentrating, intense worries or fears and trying to harm or kill oneself.

Tahoma School District also partnered with the Enumclaw School District and held a presentation called “Suicide — A Community Conversation” on Nov. 14, 2018.

Legislative priorities

Giurado said the district has been active around legislative advocacy. In late February, the district sent a coalition to Olympia to talk to legislators about the need for more funding for resources in the school district.

He said resources that are needed are health and service personnel — better ratios for nurses, councilors and more programs to help students with social and emotional learning.

When the coalition met with legislators, Giurado said he thought they were really receptive to what they were asking for. He said he was under the impression they clearly understood the need and are hoping to help support schools.

Taking action

Three unrelated possible threats were made to Tahoma High School within a 24 hour period, according to a post on the district’s Facebook.

In one of the instances, someone spray painted a message that said “Columbine” on a car, which according to the Facebook post was in reference to the Columbine shooting in 1999.

The second incident took place March 21 when a man got into an altercation with a Tahoma student. The man later came on campus barefoot, wearing an orange jumpsuit.

The third incident happened March 22 when a student came into school wearing a bandanna over his face and sunglasses, along with a hoodie and camouflage clothing. He was also carrying a camouflage duffel bag.

“It mostly impacted our high school, but it also had an effect on our other schools, too. We worked really closely with our school resource officer and the Maple Valley Police to properly assess those (situations),” Giurado explained. “I would say our staff did the right thing. It was quickly determined that each of those situations was not a direct threat to our school, but the perception of a threat to our school did ripple out into the community.”

He said feedback from the community was positive in that they were happy the school acted quickly and communicated to the public explaining what was happening.

Students at Tahoma reported each situation as they saw fit, which according to Giurado was the right thing to do.

In each of these incidents, school safety was a concern, but because staff and students were prepared for an emergency situation and acted quickly, each incident was deemed not a direct threat by the police.

Being prepared and accessing mental health, according to Giurado are the keys to school safety. Along with how to handle the aftermath of an emergency situation.

“I think that is probably the most effective long term strategy that we can do in supporting our students and our community around mental health and wellness,” Giurado said.

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