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Superintendents’ Forum: Keeping Kids Safe – Focusing on Community Care

This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle: 

By: Dr. Jill Hackman, Berks County Intermediate Unit Executive Director
Thursday, October 27, 2022

There is a continuing need to address the social and emotional well-being of our children and educators. Mental health resources and a strong community of care are critical for a thriving school environment. With this in mind, the 2022 Keeping Kids Safe Symposium focused on providing information on the tools and supports that are essential in our schools.

The 2022 Keeping Kids Safe Symposium, held on Oct. 12, was coordinated by the Berks County Intermediate Unit in partnership with the Berks County district attorney’s office and the Berks County Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Program.

Joshua MacNeill, director of NeuroLogic by Lakeside, was the speaker on the topic of community care. More than 80 individuals were in attendance for two targeted sessions titled “Supporting Yourself and Your Staff” and “Creating Supportive Environments for Students.” Participants included school administrators and their teams, counselors, psychologists, nurses, and mental health and community partners.

In his presentation, MacNeill stressed that educators play a pivotal role in supporting students’ ability to regulate their emotions and responses to situations. By implementing strategies for our own self-regulation and modeling these for students, we can support their critical social-emotional development and help guide them to a successful future.

Students and educators can care for themselves by:

• Ensuring basic needs are met (eating, sleeping)

• Taking breaks throughout the day for movement or a change of scenery

• Connecting with family members and/or friends

• Practicing deep breathing or mindfulness exercises

The content and practical applications shared by MacNeill will be extremely helpful in understanding the actions of the adults and children we work with regularly. Having an understanding of this information allows us to be strategic and empathetic in supporting all individuals through different situations.

“Keeping Kids Safe” has been an ongoing commitment in Berks County. Joint efforts aimed at ensuring the safety, health and well-being of our students have been coordinated for more than a decade. Since the initial conference in 2009, the BCIU, school superintendents, and community partners have coordinated an annual Keeping Kids Safe Symposium for educators, emergency responders (including law enforcement officers, first responders, and emergency medical services personnel), elected officials, and mental health and community groups.

The symposiums are an important opportunity for school leaders and staff members to partner with experts in their fields regarding relevant and timely issues to support, assist, and prepare schools.

Symposium topics have included civil and criminal law implications, bullying and social networking, all-hazard planning and standard response protocols, school safety and emergency preparedness, prescription and heroin use in our schools, suicide prevention, reevaluating school emergency plans and lockdown procedures, cyber security, active shooter response and other important issues.

The cornerstone of these symposiums has been our school officials and community partners. When educators, emergency responders, and mental health and community partners come together, the power of partnerships is leveraged to ensure that the health and well-being of our students and staff remain a top priority.

As schools and organizations, we are working together to support our 70,000 students and 5,000 staff members and ensure a safe and secure learning environment in our schools.

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