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An Enduring Promise: Sandy Hook Mom Talks Commitment to Helping Kids Say Something to Prevent Violence

For the past 20 months, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) co-founder Nicole Hockley has been dedicated to fixing an egregious missed opportunity in schools that she came to realize through her own personal tragedy. 

As mother of six-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim Dylan Hockley, Nicole has turned personal tragedy into her life’s work to help other families and protect their children through easy-to-implement violence prevention programs designed for the nation’s public, private and charter schools.

In just 20 months of operation, Hockley and her SHP team have trained over 1 million members with the ultimate goal of having violent prevention programs in every school soon. A current partnership with Miami-Dade district schools and an upcoming partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District both stand as testament to how the group is building on its momentum, easily making it a viable candidate to be the leading voice of violence prevention in America’s schools.

Designed with Educators in Mind

Sandy Hook Promise programs are designed with the average educator in mind. Hockley and her team understand that educators are “busy, busy” individuals who have a lot to cram into any given school day, which is why they’ve used educator feedback to make implementation as easy as possible.

Program resources (like those available for use during Say Something Week) are created directly using feedback from schools who have participated in previous years, and Hockley says resources have been tweaked and expanded using the “critical eyes of educators.” Hockley says one of the most important things her and her team keep in mind is how their programs can be integrated into any given educator's or school leader's existing agenda.

Programs are designed to "seamlessly grow with existing curriculum, whether it's your health class, your English class, your math class” or simply with the way “that your school works, like with student clubs,” Hockley said.

These efforts are obvious when looking at the resources available through SHP’s website, like the 2016 planning guide designed for this year’s Say Something Week.

The 22-page guide includes a 6-step planning guide that covers how to get started, how to increase student participation, how to inspire student creativity and ownership, how to reach the community, and more.

Specific accompanying resources include suggested social media posts, posters for school decoration, a press release and other resources designed to reach the community. Not to mention, Hockley points out, that the program’s digital download works in such a way that anyone in any school can do it, and if you’re in one of the many schools that uses Discovery Education, Say Something and Say Hello programs are available there for schools to have an additional way to self-lead.

After Say Something Week Ends

If your school is one of the 1,000 plus participating in this week’s annual Say Something campaign, Hockley has some advice for educators and school leaders on how to keep the culture of prevention alive even after the activities end.

“There’s a ton of very short activities that you can continue to do in your classroom to keep the lessons of Say Something alive,” she said. Those activities can be found here.

Hockley also encourages educators to promote student involvement in leading the initiative as much as possible.

"Let them take this content and let them run the show because kids teaching kids and keeping it alive is . . . where you get magnificent creativity but also where you get sustained behavioral change and that’s what we’re all about.”

Hockley suggests that educators familiarize themselves will all four of the free prevention programs SHP offers: Say Something, Start with Hello, Youth Mental Health First Aid, and Safety Assessment and Intervention.

”Not a One and Done Organization”

The prevention programs offered through SHP do not end with their easy-to-implement resources. SHP’s programs are designed to ensure that schools are able to sustain a culture of violence prevention, even after they’re done participating in events like Say Something Week.

Hockley and her team are committed to finding the best ways for schools to practice sustainability, which is leading them on a path to determine the effectiveness of SHP programs beyond the positive anecdotal feedback they’ve received thus far.

“We’re not a one and done organization-sustainability is incredibly important to us and we do follow-up with schools. At the moment, our effectiveness is based on those check-ins and what the schools tell us in terms of how things are going . . . but we don’t want to do something that isn’t impactful,” Hockley said.

This has resulted in an exciting undertaking to determine the best ways to prevent violence in schools and promote school safety on a national level once and for all.

Over the course of three years, the Sandy Hook Promise will be partnering with the University of Michigan to determine how their programs are having an impact on youth violence prevention.

According to Hockley, a pilot study that quantitatively analyzes SHP’s violent prevention programs will begin this January and extend until June. In the study, 15 schools using the program and 15 schools without the program will be studied to examine impactfulness before moving onto a larger study. Overall, the research into effectiveness is planned to run a course of three years.

The goal is to see “the true impact of how the program works, how the attitudes change, how the behaviors change, how many more kids are getting help” and what the overall “feeling in terms of climate and safety in the school” becomes after program use.

”I Know Now How I Can Get Help” 

Upcoming three-year study aside, Hockley has already been made aware more than once that her program is helping to save lives and carry on her son’s legacy.

“I was in Oklahoma when a student came up to me and talked about the bullying and sexual abuse that she was suffering as the result of an ex-boyfriend.”

Hockley said she talked to the student for quite some time directly after a Say Something convention when the student told her:

"'I know now how I can get help.' She said, 'you know, I have some friends who haven’t been taking me seriously, but I now know that I need to do this and have a conversation with an adult.'”

School leaders have also come out to express their support of the programs to Hockley. An assistant principal in Danbury, she said, noticed that instances of bullying had “basically gone down to nothing” months after implementing SHP’s programs.

Without a doubt, the programs are “changing lives and helping people,” Hockley said.


Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor 




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