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Speaker from Safe Havens International talks about school safety

Chris Dorn presents on school safety issues across the country

Preventing violence in schools starts with staff building trusting relationships with students and being cognizant of warning signs students may exhibit, according to Safe Havens International analyst Chris Dorn.

Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency partnered with SHI, the world’s largest non-profit school safety center, to offer free workshops for local educators, counselors, mental health professionals, law enforcement and community members to learn about how they can contribute to maintaining safe schools in their communities. Three workshops were held on Tuesday at the Little Theater at Fort Dodge Senior High.

Dorn presents on school safety issues across the country.

Dorn started his presentation with highlighting the fact that school violence isn’t a new phenomenon. Dorn cited an incident in rural Connecticut in the early 1900s where a man attempted to bring a gun to the local schoolhouse because the teacher had turned down his romantic advances. Dorn also cited a case in Chicago in 1958 when a fifth grader at a school in Chicago set a fire in the school building which ended up killing 92 students and three staff members.

During his presentation, Dorn talked about the importance of schools practicing safety drills while also focusing on prevention.

One of the main ways to prevent violent incidents perpetrated by students is for a caring adult like a teacher to build a trusting relationship with their students and to recognize warning signs before things escalate.

“My challenge for each of you,” Dorn said to the workshop attendees, “to go back and think about when you were that positive person, that positive force. What can we do to be a positive force in the schools?”

Megan Northway, a special education teacher in Eagle Grove, came to Tuesday evening’s workshop.

“I just think that it’s important to know how to be safe in schools and I thought he made a really good point about being that one person for a kid that they can have a really good relationship with,” she said.

Jeff Herzberg, Prairie Lakes AEA chief administrator, organized the presentations.

“I think the biggest takeaway for me is that this is not going to be solved by the schools alone,” he said. “We need to engage law enforcement, parents and families, the medical community … to help make schools safer places. And we need to make sure every kid has a caring adult that knows them well and that has some sort of relationship with them to help them be resilient.”