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Spotting at-risk behavior

July 31, 2018

NEWTOWN - A Florida school system was already considering a partnership with Sandy Hook Promise to put peer-based programs into classrooms to help students recognize at-risk behavior, when the shooting happened.

A 19-year-old gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day and killed 17 students and staff - America’s deadliest classroom shooting since the 2012 massacre of 26 first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook School.

“When the shooting happened, everything got delayed,” said Tim Makris, a co-founder and managing director of Newtown-based Sandy Hook Promise, a group started by family members of loved ones lost in the Sandy Hook massacre. “It makes it even more important for us to be working with them now.”

When students in the Florida school system return to class in the fall, they will do so with Sandy Hook Promise programs in place to help them spot red-flag behavior, to reduce social isolation, and to prevent suicide.

The Broward County School District signed a three-year agreement with Sandy Hook Promise last week to provide the programs free to middle school and high school students.

“These programs align with the district’s social emotional learning...and mental health plan initiatives, by providing research-supported curriculum, materials, and assistance to meet the multi-tiered needs of all students,” read a summary of the agreement provided by the Board of Education.

The programs, which Sandy Hook Promise has introduced in 140 school districts across the country, are designed to help communities learn the signs of gun violence, and prevent tragedies.

One program for older students, called “Say Something,” teaches students early warning signs that a peer is preparing to cause harm, and to tell an adult, for example. Another program called “Start With Hello,” encourages students to reach out to peers who are isolated and marginalized.

Sandy Hook Promise is able to offer its programs free in part because of a $100 million bill signed by President Donald Trump in March that offers grants for precisely the types of programs that the nonprofit offers.

If that sounds like a coincidence, it isn’t. Sandy Hook Promise was instrumental in drafting the bill, known as the STOP School Violence Act.

Sandy Hook Promise’s partnership with Broward County schools is the latest way Newtown and Parkland are connecting after the Valentine’s Day massacre.

In March, Newtown youth who formed a gun violence prevention group after the Sandy Hook massacre joined 200 fellow students from town and boarded buses to meet survivors of the Parkland high school shooting at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C.

Some of those same Parkland students who have organized a national tour to raise awareness about gun violence prevention plan to conclude their tour with a meeting in Newtown in mid-August.

Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise whose 6-year-old boy was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, said Newtown was in solidarity with Broward County schools.

“As a mom who has also experienced devastating loss from a school shooting, I understand that safety is a top priority for every parent in Broward County, and across the country, as students head back to school,” Hockley said in a prepared statement. “Sandy Hook Promise is honored to partner with this resilient community to train its students how to be ‘upstanders’ in their community.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342

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