Much has been debated and written about gun laws and school safety since the shooting at Parkland High School on Feb. 14. Students, parents, and concerned citizens across the country are pleading with the government and local schools to augment measures to protect their most valuable possession — their children.
Most of the discussion and commentary has begun to sway toward reactive measures like arming teachers, security officers in schools, and metal detectors. While school shootings shake us to our core and compromise our confidence in the one place we should feel safe, the fact remains that our children are at a much greater risk of harm outside of school. Accidents remain the number one cause of school-age death in the United States, followed by suicide and homicide.
Having worked with our schools and communities for decades, we know the employees of Greenville County Schools, including trustees, the superintendent, administrators, teachers and staff, have one priority that goes above all else — the safety of our children. As part of comprehensive safety planning, schools are engaged in many preventive measures that work to build the mental and emotional well-being of our young people. One such effort is OnTrack Greenville, an initiative to keep students on track toward high school graduation.
Since 2015, the United Way of Greenville County, Greenville County Schools, and many partners have been identifying students early who are off track in attendance, behavior, and course performance (ABCs). OnTrack Teams are comprised of teachers, and key staff such as social workers and counselors, and community partners. They work to explore the root cause of why a student is off track, then implement whole-child interventions to get the student back on track.
Initially implemented in four middle schools, the indicators, known as the ABCs, are used because research has proven they are directly linked to successful high school graduation. While the effort began with a mission to keep students on track toward a cycle of success, we have learned that our mission is much bigger.
We know through research completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that many of us experience childhood trauma, which can be anything from divorce to sexual or physical violence, and the list goes on. Trauma experienced by children changes their brain development and can manifest itself in learning disabilities, challenges with controlling behavior, and mental health.
Children often viewed as “bad kids” aren’t bad at all, they have experienced trauma that is manifesting itself in outward behavior. Through many years of working with teens we find that every behavior has a reason behind it — the root cause.
The incredible power behind OnTrack Greenville are the OnTrack Teams who first identify root causes for students’ challenges, which is often some form of trauma, and then assign an advocate to communicate with the parent and student, implement school and community interventions to support the student and the family, in some cases, in overcoming the challenge, and finally, following up to make sure the students are progressing.
We have interventions in health care, mentoring, referral and case management, out-of-schooltime learning, and teen leadership, to name a few. These interventions alongside services such as social workers and mental health counseling, as well as schoolwide efforts related to compassion and mindfulness, prevent the escalation of trauma to the point that it prevents a student from fulfilling their highest potential in life.
After two years, we are already seeing a significant impact of OnTrack Greenville. An independent evaluation conducted by the Riley Institute at Furman University found a 29 percent decrease in behavior referrals, and a 20 percent reduction in the number of days in out-of-school suspension after the implementation of OnTrack Greenville. Further, as a result of early impact, OnTrack Greenville was expanded to 10 more Greenville County Schools this year with plans to expand to all schools in years to come.
OnTrack Greenville is a community effort with many partners engaged in schools all working together in supporting students in overcoming trauma so they can fulfill their potential.
We are proud of the efforts of Greenville County Schools to embrace and implement such an innovative initiative. OnTrack Greenville, combined with school safety planning, protocol, and, practice will ensure that we are doing all we can do to keep our students safe and on track to graduation.
Tobi Kinsell, director of OnTrack Greenville for United Way of Greenville County, leads and facilitates transformative public/private partnerships with education, corporate, non-profit, and evaluation stakeholders to improve outcomes for students and the community. Dr. Jason McCreary is the director of Accountability and Quality Assurance for Greenville County Schools. Originally published in The Greenville News on March 13, 2018.