Schools must be safe places for all children at all times and in all ways: physically, emotionally and psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually.
In many ways the first and most obvious – providing a safe physical environment – would seem to be the easiest, but it requires planning, attention to detail, vigilance, and constant assessment and evaluation of both the external (beyond the campus) and internal environment (on the campus) by the Faculty and staff, administration, buildings and grounds personnel, and the custodial staff.
Playground fences are inspected, surfaces are mulched, and playing fields are carefully groomed. Classroom construction materials are chosen with care. Morning drop-off and afternoon pickup are conducted with precision following the design, safety, and flow recommendations of traffic engineers.
Fire drills are practiced monthly, with egress times carefully recorded so that, with practice, our evacuation times improve. Evacuation routes are reassessed with school growth, and emergency lighting and fire extinguishers are inspected and maintained. Water heater temperatures are set within carefully established parameters. Hallways and emergency exits are well-marked and kept clear.
Inclement weather drills are conducted every other month to train adults and students in how to take refuge quickly in safe interior spaces in case of tornado watches or warnings. A weather alert monitor remains on at all times in the administrative wing.
The school Crisis Plan is reviewed annually, forcing the TFS staff to ponder, and prepare for, the unthinkable: situations on campus that would require a “lockdown” to protect students and adults, a whole-campus evacuation, or a police response.
Creating a safe, attractive environment physically contributes directly to the emotional safety of this learning community. In the school design itself the scale of the buildings and the “profile” of the architecture was carefully executed to be warm, welcoming, and intimate for elementary and middle school students. Covered walkways and an embracing interior courtyard are reflective of the Franciscan Tradition at the Catholic Community of St. Francis.
Dry wall was used in interior spaces, not cinderblock, and neutral paints and baffled lighting are carefully chosen. Uniforms diminish peer pressure, add to a sense of school pride, and give a seriousness of purpose and comportment to our work together.
Faculty and staff create warm environments where all children are seen as gifts from God, and where those gifts are carefully nurtured each day. As professionals, the Faculty themselves work hard at leading balanced lives so that they can be present to the children each day, undistracted by pressures beyond school and giving their students the emotional stability that students need and that only stable, mature, professional adults can provide.
Beyond in-depth background checks, each Faculty and staff member – and now all of our volunteers – must take the Diocesan Safe Child program so that they can recognize the tell-tale signs of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and know how to go about reporting and discussing them with the TFS administration so that we can move quickly to get children who are at risk or in distress help promptly.
Intellectually TFS must be a safe place to make mistakes, to stretch, challenge, engage, and try new things without fearing “failure”. That means learning to listen to each other in class and out, to develop the language and courage to engage in spirited debate, to develop strategies to disagree without being disagreeable, and to eschew bullying of any kind at all times – physical, intellectual, social, and electronic.
From a disciplinary standpoint, we work hard to help students learn from mistakes, to take the “teachable moment” and help them grow through a misjudgment or poor behavior without shaming or dunning. We are judged not so much by the mistakes that we make, but by how we handle the mistakes that we make, and we need to give our children the tools they need to grow through mistakes and to learn from them.
Finally, TFS is a safe place to pray, to worship, and to be and become spiritual beings in a secular society that so often does not seem Christ-centered. Whether joining our voices and hands in the Courtyard in Morning Prayer, at TFS Wednesday morning Praise, at class or monthly Mass, or seeking real-life ways to live and love daily as Jesus did, we praise and worship our God and see Christ in each other.
Even though accidents and bad things happen even with “zero tolerance”, constant care and planning, we know that providing the safest physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual environment that we can allows this intellectual and spirit-filled community to flourish.
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