NRV schools strive to expand student safety

By Madi Armstrong

Entrance of Prices Fork Elementary School in Blacksburg, VA, on Tuesday, January 31, 2023. (Photo: Madi Armstrong)

In light of the Newport News elementary school shooting in early January, elementary schools surrounding the New River Valley are working towards a safer environment for all students.

With the Gun Violence Archive reporting a little over 50 shootings in January alone, it has members of the New River Valley wondering if their children are safe. However, local schools want to ensure parents that their children will be protected from harm — should it arise.

“In Virginia, all schools are required to have a Crisis Plan,” Director of Student Services and Safety, Jason Garretson, said. “Our plans do include sections on reported weapons, shootings on campus, and serious injuries on campus. The plans follow guidelines established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services, and are updated annually.”

Aside from the Crisis Plan, Garretson confirmed that schools within the New River Valley have training for their teachers as a means to be adequately prepared for emergencies that can occur.

“Most of our teachers are trained in First Aid and CPR; it’s actually a licensure requirement in Virginia,” Garretson said. “They are also trained in our systems for notifying school administrator support and/or law enforcement.”

However, training doesn’t stop there. According to Garretson, schools participate in biannual state-mandated lockdown drills; and staff and faculty are trained in trauma-informed care to best help students.

Some staff even feel that things have already gotten better than in previous years.

Drop-off area of Kipps Elementary School in Blacksburg, VA, on Tuesday, January 31, 2023. (Photo: Madi Armstrong)

“Growing up, I think getting into schools was easier,” Substitute teacher, Emily Cullen, said. “Now, the only way to get in is by calling beforehand and going through the front office.”

Before beginning her employment at an elementary school in Radford, Cullen talked about a lockdown that occurred last year. According to Cullen, the families she knew were significantly affected by the incident.

“It greatly changes the heart,” Cullen said. “However, I would encourage others to suggest new ideas because it’s ultimately about the safety of faculty and students.”

In other words, Cullen wants everyone to know that if you see something, say something — which is the same sentiment that Garretson also had.

“‘See something, say something’ is a consistent theme,” Garretson said. “We need to take lessons learned from every school tragedy that occurs and incorporate them into our standard practices. And safety has to always be a priority.”

With all of this in mind, each school works closely with their local law enforcement for expertise in these areas that help foster a safer community, alongside the resilient community.

“We are so appreciative of the cooperative nature we see from most of our students and families,” Garretson said. “This is also true of our local law enforcement and EMS responders.  We are blessed to have wonderful working relationships with these brave men and women.”

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