Some of us remember walking to and from school unescorted by an adult. We also remember school doors kept unlocked during the school day. Above all, we always felt safe inside the sanctuary of school walls.
Today, however, children live in a world vastly different from that of previous generations. For example, this morning a TV newscaster reported a teenage gang member victimizing a member of another gang by chopping off his figures with a machete. He also told the story of two teenagers in another part of the county who committed suicide over a love affair. Changes in society, alterations in our awareness levels of past and present evils and rapid development of technology and communications have altered our notions of safety effectiveness and prompt a new consciousness to guarantee a healthy and safe environment in schools. Our children and youth must experience the greatest degree of safety.
If Catholic educators and catechists are to ensure the carrying out of the program's or institution's mission, which is to provide quality Catholic education in a faith-filled community, they must ensure safe environments free from fear and injury. This requires that administrators, teachers, staff and, in fact, the whole educational community must first assess the safety and health of the learning environment and then plan accordingly. For instance, everyone in the building and on the playing fields must have his or her antennae up to tune in to harmful or potentially harmful situations. If loopholes do exist in planning, immediate action must take place to rectify the situation.
According to a National Center for Educational Statistics and Department of Justice report, "For children to fulfill their potential in school, schools should be safe and secure places for all students, teachers and staff members" (DeVoe et al., 2004). To this we add healthy environment. Without a safe and healthy environment, teaching and learning are impossible. According to the center, "A comprehensive safe plan is vital to the well being of the students." In fact, successful planning enables students, as well as educators, staff and administrators, to enter a school without concern for their present and/or future health.
The National Catholic Educational Association's Statement on Accountability and Assessment in Catholic Education reminds Catholic educators that "we hold a sacred trust to educate and form the whole person." This calls for us to be accountable by assessing how well the program/institution handles this sacred trust. The overall challenge posed by this issue of Momentum for those involved in Catholic education is to go beyond the establishment and enforcement of student dress codes and to be sensitive to students' heavy and troubled hearts as well as the air they breathe. These are some data to support this. Seven percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported that they had been bullied at school. Away from school, there were 1,922 suicides of children ages 5 to 19 during the 2000 calendar year. Children develop leukemia three to nine times more often when pesticides are used around the home and school (Catholic Coalition for Children and a Safe Environment, 2004).
What is a safe and healthy leaning environment? What are the elements of it? A safe learning environment is one that does not tolerate bullying, intimidation and terrorism and respects the dignity of the person. …