“The safety of students is always our number 1 priority,” says Larry Celmer, assistant principal of Cambria County’s Forest Hills Elementary School, one of 110 public schools across the state to receive a “Safe Schools” grant.
The Department of Education awarded a total of $2.6 million to implement programs to prevent and reduce incidents of violence in schools.
“The Safe Schools Targeted Grants will provide schools with the resources they need to ensure that our schools will continue to be the safe learning environments that students, parents and teachers expect,” said Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq.
The grants, which ranged from nearly $7,000 to the maximum $25,000, are separate from another state program that provides funding to school districts to hire uniformed police officers. In Allegheny County nine school districts and one charter school — Urban Pathways — were recipients of Safe Schools grants.
According to Dumaresq, several school initiatives were considered for funding:
- Conflict resolution or dispute management
- School-wide positive behavior support
- School-based diversion programs
- Classroom management
- Research-based violence prevention programs that address risk factors to reduce incidents of problem behaviors among students
- Staff training in the use of positive behavior supports, de-escalation techniques and appropriate responses to student behavior that may require immediate intervention
Larry Celmer, who also serves as Safe Schools Coordinator of the Forest Hills School District, says the $25,000 grant will be used to purchase and install cameras throughout the elementary school building where they don’t have coverage now.
“For instance, we don’t have total coverage of our cafeteria; we don’t have coverage of our loading and unloading of students from buses,” Celmer said. “We have a big center stairwell in our school that we don’t have coverage for; there are several cameras outside that don’t cover our whole playground.”
According to Celmer the increased use of cameras could prevent two possible safety issues, “one, student abduction, which is coming from what happens around the United States, and two, we also looked at our bullying surveys and found that a lot of bullying happens in our non-instructional areas like our cafeteria, like our hallways,” said Celmer. “We just wanted to make sure that if we could get the grant those would be the areas we would target.”
He said these steps are meant to be proactive.
“We just want to make sure that as much as we can do to make our children safe while they’re here in our building then we’re going to do it,” Celmer said.