News

Notes from the field:  Partnering with schools in a more “dangerous” world

Modern American life has already thrust upon us a higher level of awareness about child safety in this era of Megan’s Law.  With the additional horrors visited upon our young people in the uncovering of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the unspeakable tragedy of the Newtown school massacre, this year dramatically ratcheted up the sense of vulnerability felt by schools and the personnel who run them.

Anyone in the business of working with schools and looking to partner with them should take heed of these developments in order to be better prepared and responsive as service providers.

Several things should be noted:

1.) Background Checks - It is now even more incumbent by service providers such as teaching artists and organizations who partner and work within schools to have updated background checks in their possession.  Those needed in Pennsylvania are: the FBI, PA State and the Child Abuse Clearance.  Here is a link where information about these can be found: www.portal.state.pa.us

2.) Lobby Front Desk Etiquette - When arriving at a school or checking in as a guest, remember to be patient with and courteous to the security personnel as well as office staff.  Beware of conditions that may be hindering what you think should be speedier acknowledgement of your presence.  This behavior might seem self-evident, but as a customer-service practice, it is always good to be reminded. 

3.) Signing In - If the front desk is unmanned, go to the front office and look for someone to check-in with.  Due diligence is important even if it means taking a few extra minutes for you to register on the school’s radar that you are there.  During the school days, almost all front desks are covered by personnel; however, after school hours, less so.  Be sure to budget additional time in your arrival to check in with the front office.

4.) Wear Your Visitor's Pass - Make sure you wear the visitor’s pass/sticker that is given to you by security.  This is especially important for those service providers who might feel like part of the “family” because they’ve worked in the building before or already have meaningful relationships with some staff.  You are still a guest and a stranger to someone in the building who has not met you.  People get nervous easily.

5.) Liability Insurance - If you are an organization that wishes to utilize a school facility or property for a youth-based activity or event, you will likely be asked to provide your own liability insurance.  The cost of this insurance is now higher as result of heightened attention to the dangers surrounding children.

6.) Understanding School Security Protocols - Lastly, if you are an outside organization that wishes to partner with the school to utilize the facility to host an event or activity that brings in the public or others who do not normally have a reason to be in the school, extra attention to working with the school and its security to ensure an understanding of front desk / check-in protocols is recommended. 

Here is an example of what can transpire.  An event was hosted at a school with multiple outside groups participating.  While arriving, student guest performers were allowed in the building an hour in advance of the show, but certain family members and friends in their entourage were not, at least, not until the doors were to “officially” open for the event.  The younger sister of a performer was told to wait outside the building, and as an unfamiliar face, she was assaulted by a bullying horde of teenage girls from the neighborhood.

I share this to illustrate the need to communicate with the school staff to establish a working process for allowing non-familiar guests to enter the premises with an understanding of what is expected of them as guests and what is expected by the personnel manning the front desk as the school’s first point of contact with the public.

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There is already a high level of safety concerns operating an urban school, but to throw in these additional factors make for a heady brew that has the potential to permanently cleave the school off from any meaningful interaction with the community in which it is serving and to sever any reasonable ties to the general public. 

It is important for both sides to acknowledge these challenges in the wake of these painful realities and try not to let them discolor the unique bonds that should be forged in service of our young people.