The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 4, 2013

School safety is topic of community forum

Lessons from Sandy Hook

WINDBER — School administrators, mental health experts and law enforcement officials must work together with the community to reduce violence affecting children.

That’s the idea behind a community forum, “School and Community Safety: Lessons Learned from the Sandy Hook Tragedy,” at 10 a.m. Thursday in Windber Research Institute.

Experts in pediatrics, mental health, education and law enforcement will outline issues and invite community feedback to explore options that can be implemented here, coordinator Dr. Matthew Masiello said.

Masiello is director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Windber, which is co-sponsoring the forum with Alternative Community Resource Program.

“It is the so-called experts in the community coming together to speak on the big picture of violence against children and what we can provide to these schools,” Masiello said.

Topics will cover the basics of school security, such as the best alarms, locks and cameras, Masiello said.

But the panel of experts will expand on community-wide topics, including mental health support and legislative policy.

“Legislators need to hear from the community more than ever,” Masiello said.

Although firearms will be covered, guns are not the focus of the program, Masiello said.

“We need to go beyond doing something about firearms,” he said. “People need to have some information about violence in the community.”

The experts will outline evidence and data related to violence against children, but they are not coming to drum up support for their own plans, said Curt Davis, ACRP facilitator for School-wide Positive Behavior & Interventional Support programs.

The organization already provides mental health therapists for every school district in Cambria County, Davis said.

“As a behavioral health organization, we deal with all aspects of (violence),” Davis said. “We are going to talk about prevention and intervention.”

Davis said he and ACRP social worker Jill Surloff will outline school-based mental health programs and suggest areas to expand.

The program will wrap up with a panel discussion with audience participation.

Masiello stressed the importance of a broad-based community response to violence, based on evidence.

“All we are hearing is commentary and opinions from politicians and others,” Masiello said. “We are going to give people information.”

It will be up to the community to consider the big questions when developing a response, Davis said, listing:

“Where do we want to go from here? Who has to be involved? What is the cost of action, and what is the cost of inaction to our children and society?”

If you go

What: Community forum, “School and Community Safety: Lessons Learned from the Sandy Hook Tragedy.”  

When: 10 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

Where: Windber Research Institute, 600 Somerset Ave.

Advance registration: Contact Annalisa Ferrau: a.ferrau@wriwindber.org,  361-6966.

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