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Helping Create Safe and Welcoming School Communities in American Samoa

Date 

December 3, 2014

Social 

Graphic of a word cloud

Our work as the Region X Equity Assistance Center (EAC) covers more than just the five Northwest states and Hawai’i. It also covers quite a bit of the Pacific, including American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Yap, and Pohnpei).

Our EAC helps K–12 public schools become safer and more welcoming school communities. We do this by building awareness of issues such as harassment and bullying, helping schools meet compliance when civil rights violations take place, and facilitating prevention strategies—to make sure that all students receive what they need to succeed academically.

I recently returned from presenting a weeklong training of trainers for the American Samoa Department of Education. I worked with a group of elementary and high school counselors on the laws and techniques educators must utilize to maintain a safe and healthy school climate that’s free of harassment and bullying behaviors. This project began with the development of a school climate survey, which was administrated in November, with the training serving as a follow-up activity. Being able to work with counselors was great! Counselors play a critical role in nurturing and strengthening relationships with students and what better way to spread our message than through counselors.

One of the takeaways from the workshop came when several participants had an “a-ha” moment over the use of the phrase “eye of the beholder” as a legal term. The phrase didn’t sink in at first, but then they realized that when an incident occurs, it’s not the intent that counts but rather how it’s received. They could see how using this term with students could empower them to speak up when something happens that they don’t like.

In a discussion with counselors from elementary schools another takeaway was the distinction between “reporting” and “tattling.” When students report a behavior, they are saying, “I need help.” Tattling, on the other hand, is just getting someone in trouble. Of course, teachers want kids to stop tattling and start reporting, but often students don’t report out of fear of retaliation or because they believe nothing will change.

During the training I did an activity where I asked participants, “What would safe schools look like in American Samoa?” Each counselor came up with 10 words, which we added to a word cloud (pictured above). This is a nice illustration of what counselors believe.

Building and maintaining a safe and healthy school climate can have such a tremendous impact on students’ academic achievement, as well as their social and emotional well-being. If students are going to be college- and career-ready, they must attend schools that are safe and demonstrate and value differences.