March 20, 2018

BHS Students Participate in Safety Forum at Willowbrook High School

Nine Batavia High School students, along with BHS Principal Dr. JoAnne Smith and BHS Athletic Director Dave Andrews, recently participated in a Safety Forum at Willowbrook High School. They joined more than 400 high school student leaders from 28 high schools throughout the Chicago area who came together for a day of conversation and planning regarding school safety. Through this forum, participants shared their voices and thoughts on this national issue, worked on an action plan to bring back to their schools, and spoke with local and state civic leaders, legislators, and area first responders. The event was covered by several media outlets, including NBC 5 Chicago.

A few days after the forum, the participating BHS students met with Dr. Smith, Mr. Andrews, and BPS101 Chief Financial Officer and District Safety Team member Tony Inglese to debrief. They talked about key takeaways from the forum, areas of focus, and real action items for Batavia High School.

Dr. Smith started the conversation by letting students know that the debrief was meant to be a free flow of ideas with no judgement. She also shared that her biggest takeaway from the forum was how it magnified just how much high school students have to say.

“I already knew how intelligent and forward-thinking our high schools students are, but I don’t know if wider Chicagoland knows that,” she said. “This forum, with its media coverage, illustrated that.”

BHS senior Grace Gerardi said her biggest takeaway was the focus on mental health.

“It was interesting the way we looked at mental health and it having a direct link to school safety,” she said.

Mr. Andrews added that he was not expecting the issue of mental health to come out as loud and clear as it did in the Safety Forum, but was very glad it did.

“It’s important that we talk about mental health and work together on ways to de-stigmatize it,” he said.

Other students said that their biggest takeaway was how open and honest students were in the forum, and how freeing that felt.

“I thought this [forum] was a productive way to get things done. It was the first time we’ve seen things like this,” said BHS senior Yousuf Ahmad.

The Safety Forum bullseye brainstorming exercise helped students identify action items specific to their schools.

The 400-plus students at the Safety Forum all came back to their schools with action items. The action items stemmed from a valuable brainstorming exercise conducted during the forum in which students from each of the participating 28 high schools filled in “bullseye” rings on a poster to determine each individual school’s strengths, safety issues, safety issues that need to be addressed, ideas on how to address them, and action items.

Some of the action items that BHS students came up with included:

  • working to eliminate the stigma of mental health counseling at BHS
  • having virtual access to counselors
  • having better/more emergency drills
  • working toward acceptance of all students, regardless of race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability

“A lot of what happens, doesn’t happen in the eyes of adults,” said Grace Gerardi on the topic of acceptance

All BHS students in the debriefing meeting agreed that they want fellow students and BHS staff members to get involved when they hear and/or see prejudicial behavior and for students to challenge themselves to seek ways to understand the ideologies of others and to defend their own. Classes like debate and sociology were brought up by students as constructive ways to explore differing points of view and cultural differences. 

Dr. Smith explained to the group that BHS staff members are working on ways to de-stigmatize mental health counseling, including setting up a “house system.”

“We’re getting away from a ‘counseling office,’” she said. “Instead, we’re creating freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior ‘offices’ where students can come in for academic advising, course scheduling, college and career planning, and/or mental health support.”

Dr. Smith said she realizes this won’t entirely solve the stigma issue, but that it’s a step in the right direction. She also said she likes the idea of virtual access to counselors and for students to be able to make appointments in a way other than a formal e-mail, such as a Google Form with a check box to note the reason for a visit.

Mr. Andrews and Mr. Inglese talked to students about their concern for “better/more emergency drills” and agreed it is an important action item and one that it is already being addressed.

At this time, the District Safety Team, in conjunction with local authorities, is reevaluating how we respond in different emergency situations and reviewing current procedures and drills for all BPS101 schools.

“The primary way we prepare students for emergencies is to practice. We realize that drills can be anxiety provoking, but in today’s climate, we need to be better prepared,” said Mr. Inglese.

The final takeaway from the Willowbrook High School Safety Forum was a one-minute action statement that each of the 28 participating schools was challenged with creating and then sharing with the entire forum. BHS students developed and shared the following statement, which they are already putting into action with the help and guidance of BHS Administration:

“As representatives of Batavia High School, we hope our plan sufficiently acknowledges the homogeneity and privilege of our school district and town. We live in a very white-picket fence type of area, so as a small group, we commit to creating a culture of inclusivity and respect. We will speak up when classmates are being disrespectful or bigoted toward members of the LGBT community, the mentally ill, and students of color. We will use our participation in clubs and activities to amplify this message. We also pledge to speak with the administration for lunch time, passing periods, and non-classroom spaces like the library. We will also advocate for a method of efficient digital communication with counselors to make it easier for students in need of help to obtain it. We will also ensure that teaching staff tasked with discussing tough issues, like student death, will do so sensitively and without hesitation. Finally, we pledge to facilitate student protests so messages are conveyed quickly and there is no confusion, which could lead to panic or harm.”