In 2018, the State of Michigan’s School Safety Task Force released a report recommending 29 actions be taken by policymakers and K-12 schools to improve school safety. In response, the Michigan State Police Grants and Community Services Division (GCSD) applied for and was awarded two competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).
With a portion of the funding from these awards, the GCSD and its Office of School Safety (OSS) partnered with Michigan State University Professor John Carlson and graduate students from the School Psychology Ph.D. program to develop six training modules designed for school resource officers (SROs).
“The BJA funding allowed us to address the need for additional training options for those working in schools,” said Kim Root, who facilitated the project as section manager for OSS. “Giving SROs insights and tools on how to become a trusted adult in the school setting is critical,” she said.
While many states require that SROs undergo training, Michigan does not.
The modules place mental health intervention and relationship building as priorities for ensuring school safety. Carlson’s research team utilized literature from various sources and disciplines, including their own, in developing the content.
“We know schools must work with their community partners to develop procedures to identify which kids may need more help and support,” said Carlson. “Mental health supports, inclusive of the unique needs of the population being served, must be made available to help keep our schools safe for all.”
The following modules, intended to be completed by users in order, are not only free, but can be accessed asynchronously:
- Promoting a Safe and Supportive School Climate
- Teaming and Collaborative Data-based Problem Solving
- Early Identification of Mental Health Challenges
- Mental Health Interventions and Care Coordination
- Working with Diverse Populations
- Self-Care and Wellness
In September 2021, Beth Beattie – a department analyst for the OSS – began working with Carlson and his research team to identify key issues related to school safety. The group met four to six times per month and initially focused on areas such as bullying, cyberbullying, relationship building and threat assessment.
As the collaboration progressed, their efforts resulted in a comprehensive program tailored to equip SROs with the necessary tools and strategies for fostering positive relationships and maintaining a safe and supportive school environment.
“The modules begin with building relationships and follow with school structures and what SROs can expect on the job,” said Beattie. “The modules educate SROs on how to talk to kids not as criminals, but as a partner in their development.”
Carlson, who has researched violence in schools extensively, also believes that communities and school districts must take ownership of the issue.
“Ensuring that schools are safe and supportive learning environments begins with identifying key stakeholders who can effectively implement physical, procedural and psychological hardening methods while being laser focused on eliminating school violence. Those school safety teams must consider and then utilize the wide array of effective violence prevention approaches known to keep kids safe,” he said.
After developing the curriculum, Carlson and his team selected Michigan Virtual to turn the project into a widely accessible learning series. Its September 2023 launch, which was met with almost 500 enrollments in 30 days, is accessible at no cost to professionals looking to learn more about preventing violence in Michigan schools.
Author’s note: The GCSD applied for and was awarded two competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) under the 2019 Student, Teachers, and Officers (STOP) School Violence Program School Violence for the Technology and Threat Assessment Solutions for Safer Schools Program and the School Violence Prevention and Mental Health Training Program.