Violence in the United States has been increasing among children and adolescents at alarming rates and is now considered a significant public health concern (Thornton, Craft, Dahlberg, Lynch, & Baer, 2000). In a typical city, 30 to 50 cases of school violence are reported daily, with one half of these cases involving guns (Shafii and Shafii, 2001). The probability that a student will die as a result of violence in an American high school is five times higher than the likelihood in other developed countries (Shafii and Shafii, 2001). As a result, many school leaders have rated safety as a top priority.
Typically, school security and safety have been addressed through changes in equipment or personnel, such as installation of metal detectors or hiring of security officers. Yet recent safety initiatives in schools have been more broadly defined to include prevention and intervention programs that target students, schools and communities (Peterson & Skiba, 2000). Examples of these programs are: conflict resolution and peer mediation programs (Aber, Jones, Brown, Chaudry, & Samples, 1998; Reece, Peterson, & Skiba, 2000); development of mechanisms for reporting security concerns and explicit policies pertaining to aggressive or violent behaviors (Gable & Van Acker, 2000; Trump, 1998); education and training of students, staff and teachers on the early and imminent warning signs of violence (Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998); teaching of life skills and pro-social behaviors (Van Acker & Talbott, 1999); increasing cultural sensitivity and respect for diversity (Laurel & Duhaney, 2000); creation and reinforcement of linkages to outside services (Sheras, Cornell, & Bostain, 1996); and preparation for a crisis and its aftermath (Dwyer, Osher, & Hoffman, 2000). Based on the work by Conrad and colleagues (1994), the model depicted in Figure 1 provides a conceptualization of school violence within an ecological health framework. This model shows that school violence is influenced by student, school and community factors that can be modified by prevention and intervention activities. For example, student risk factors may be diminished by enhancing problem solving and anger management skills, while school risk factors may be changed by increasing the physical safety of the building.
Although multiple programs have demonstrated efficacy in reducing violence, there are no studies demonstrating the extent to which school personnel perceive a need for such programs or are adopting them in any systematic manner. Furthermore, it is suggested that many schools may face a number of barriers that prevent implementation of such programs, such as limited resources and lack of an infrastructure for new program development (Trump, 1998). Many school officials express concern about available equipment and personnel to teach basic academic courses, let alone expanded programs addressing violence and other psychosocial issues. Moreover, the success of many of these programs depends not only on the commitment of the entire school but community support as well (Aber, Brown, Chaudry, Jones, & Sample, 1996; Orpinas, Kelder, Murray, Fourney, Confroy, & McReynolds, 1996; Wiist, Jackson, & Jackson, 1996).
Because of the apparent gap between the need for and dissemination of effective programs, this study was designed to accomplish three aims: 1) to educate school personnel about the effects of violence and evidence-based programs for school safety; 2) to assess perceptions of school personnel about school safety, barriers to violence prevention and systemic response to crisis; and 3) to develop a model for strategic planning that can be disseminated into the community. To address these aims, local mental health experts presented a one-day summer workshop on violence and post-traumatic stress disorder to K-12 school personnel. To address the first aim, presenters discussed causes of violence, attributes of effective prevention and intervention programs to reduce violence, and characteristics of safe schools that have been identified in the published literature on school violence in the past decade. …