City High student provides a spot while working in a set with Officer Saunders and Bigley .
It is unfortunate that our children have become the first mass-shooting generation where active-shooter drills are the new norm. Born into a world forever changed by the 1999 attack at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook and Parkland massacres, kids around the country have grown up practicing active-shooter drills and huddling through lockdowns. They’ve talked about threats and safety steps with their parents and teachers. But these horrific events still occur.
|Reporter: Annie Rosenthal/Post-Gazette
Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Post-Gazette
Fitness program aims to build trust between police, high schoolers
City High Sets Lofty Standards for School Safety
Five initiatives Help Ensure a Safer Place for Learning.
Located in downtown Pittsburgh, City Charter High School has all the challenges of an urban school and, as one might expect, employs all the latest high-tech solutions and devices. Things like ballistic glass in the lobby, secured entrances, metal detectors, panic switches and monitored CCTV. What’s more, every student, teacher and staff member has undergone ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) training. As an ALICE-certified trainer, safety director Dougherty developed safety learning programs tailored to both students and staff. And it is quite an accomplishment that each and every person in the school has passed these courses. But many believe we can go further.
“We need to do everything we can to provide a safe learning environment for all of our students.” So says school principal Ron Sofo, “And then we need to think out of the box and do even more. The missing element in my mind is the human one. To take safety to the next level, we all have to be involved personally… we have to be part of a community.”
As City High’s full-time safety director, Dougherty concurs, “We want our kids to come to school and know that all they have to worry about is coming in, doing their work, passing their tests and going back home. They don’t have to worry about anything happening while they’re at school.”
To that end, City High instituted a non-bullying policy from the start. Every year this policy is reevaluated and includes such advances as social media monitoring and a confidential rapid-alert bully and potential threat tip-line for students, parents, and community partners.
Beyond anti-bullying strategies and physical security measures to the facility, the school has undertaken a few other community-building initiatives to ensure a safe learning environment. City High administrators are in close contact with the Pittsburgh Police, the Port Authority Police, Pittsburgh Emergency Management and the countless other downtown community partners that keep City High’s security team on the pulse of all low-, medium-, and high-level alerts, if any, at all times.
“Lunch with an Officer” offers open discussions
Pushing for extra reps, Officer Saunders lifts after school with City High students during their after-school Fitness Club.
Pittsburgh Police are also making an effort to help kids see “beyond the badge” through two novel programs. It all began when safety director Del Dougherty met with Zone 2’s Community Resource Officer Davis, under the guidance of Commander Kudrav, who is now Assistant Chief of Police. Together, they met to discuss strategies to help students get to know the police as real people and create a positive influence that will help prevent good kids from making bad choices.
Lunch with an Officer grew out of that meeting,” says Dougherty. And while community resource officer Davis began the initiative, his increased responsibilities were not permitting him the kind of consistent commitment he felt was needed. So while officer Davis continues to participate at City High in other capacities he reached out to his fellow officers at Zone 2 and Officer Saunders and Bigley stepped in and stepped up.
What started out as officers just walking around the cafeteria, grew into students grabbing a seat by the officers to have an open dialog about, well, just about anything. Today, these young police officers are still having lunch with City High kids. As Saunders reports, “We start it off and let the kids take over from there.” And the dialog begins. “The kids are shocked to know we play the same video games as they do,” chuckles officer Bigley. “They realize I’m a regular person. I just happen to be a police officer.”
And now the bonding sessions have moved into the beautiful new fitness center, where Officers Saunders and Bigley are winning over the hearts and minds of even more City High students. According to director Dougherty, “We met last trimester with Commander Zett here, and went over some ideas… talked about the fitness club, talked about a couple other things we’d like to try.”
Zone 2 officers Saunders and Bigley suggested “Tuesday Lifting with Students” during the kids’ after-school fitness club as a way to relate to students in a no-pressure athletic setting. Students can work in sets, chat in-between or just work out alongside the Pittsburgh Police.
Is it working? Just ask officer Bigley. “Sometimes we’ll schedule a lunch and if we get held over in training or can’t make it for some reason, the kids start asking, ‘When are they coming back? When are they coming back?’ So, they are looking forward to us.”
Another sign of success of these programs comes in the form of ratings. According to niche.com, City High receives an A+ health and safety rating. And regular risk assessments are completed by: PA State Police, Pittsburgh Emergency Management and the Department of Homeland Security.
To ensure that all of our cutting-edge initiatives continue to provide a safe, secure place for our kids to learn, City High’s security program is continually re-evaluated. By regularly asking all of the security forces involved to assess our school security, we can make it better every year. This proactive approach gives our students (and parents) peace-of-mind, so their minds are free to learn.
The Fitness Center at City Charter High School