Two safety experts collaborated with an educator to address this need. The question they attempted to address was, “Could children as young as kindergarten be taught safety strategies without triggering adverse effects?” The answer to this question was the development of the H.E.R.O. Program, a comprehensive program introducing curriculum and teaching best practices in education and safety. It was predicted that teaching and practicing the most effective safe-thinking strategies in a safe classroom environment prior to engaging in pre-announced drills would be more effective and less threatening than “cold” drills -- drills done without training, preparation or dialogue.
Nothing like this had been conceived or developed previously. As such, there were important questions to be answered, such as:
• Does the H.E.R.O. program work as designed?
• Does the H.E.R.O. program reach the targeted goals of teaching safe-thinking strategies?
• Would teachers feel more or less confident handling a violent event at school with students under their care after participating in this program?
• What resistance, if any, would be faced from teachers/staff, and parents?
• Would such a program designed for students as young as Kindergarten make them feel more or less safe as a result of participating?
• Could students this young actually learn how to take safe measures?
In their attempt to answer these questions, the authors of the H.E.R.O. program conducted a three-phase pilot study in different contexts. The first phase took place in a prominent afterschool program with students and representatives of three districts; the second phase took place with all students in grades K-8 in an entire public-school district; the third phase took place in a large private school. The entire three-phase pilot study took place during the fall of 2017 and through the spring of 2018. A total of 19,433 students (K-8), 747 staff and 38 schools representing 4 districts and 1 private school participated in the pilot study.
Despite the broad range of diversity represented in the participants of this pilot, the findings were surprisingly uniform. There was very little variance in the findings, regardless of the type of data: questionnaire, field notes, interviews, journals and testimonials. All forms of artifact evidence such as photos and videos, including student-featured video journals voluntarily submitted, demonstrated
remarkably similar outcomes, regardless of context. In addition, the program was featured on local news channels following a lethal gang shooting adjacent to an elementary school that was in the process of teaching H.E.R.O. The school administrator, teachers, and students were interviewed for this local broadcast. This artifact underscored the findings of the pilot study, while being filmed by a television crew and airing on television and online.
These were the findings
1. The efficacy of the program exceeded expectations. Students were able to successfully employ effective safety strategies even in a real-life scenario, while demonstrating less fear, rather than more.
2. Prior to starting H.E.R.O., students did not feel safe at school. When asked why, the students responded, “Shootings happen at school.”
3. After participating in the H.E.R.O. Program, students, teachers and administrators all reported they felt safer at school as a result of H.E.R.O. Testimonials emerged without solicitation, such as, “Prior to H.E.R.O. my daughter was anxious and afraid to go to school. Now, she is confident and no longer afraid. H.E.R.O. changed her life.”
4. Students, as young as kindergarten, demonstrated without exception and without hesitation an ability to hide, build barricades, escape, run and overcome quickly and quietly after being trained in H.E.R.O.
5. A real-life shooting occurred adjacent to a school participating in H.E.R.O. Half of the school had been trained in H.E.R.O. The half that had been trained responded safely. The half that had not did not respond safely. The principal reported her observations to the authors of the study as well as the local news. One student with special needs, who is known to be disruptive and had been through H.E.R.O. training, was in one of the locked-down classrooms. The teacher reported she was so quiet that after 45 minutes they had to search the room to find her. She did not demonstrate any adverse effects of the event.
6. Teacher resistance was expected when asked to teach children how to survive a violent event. Surprisingly, this was not experienced. And after the Parkland, Florida shooting, the teachers expressed how scared they were. Positive teacher receptivity increased after Parkland.
7. Parent resistance was likewise expected, but as with teachers, resistance was also not experienced. Out of the nearly 20,000 students who participated, only one parent requested her child be excluded from participating. There was not one negative comment from a parent in the entire pilot study. The comment heard most from parents was, “Thank you!”
8. The results of a Pre-Test/Post-Test given to the teachers indicated a substantial increase of public school teacher confidence (at least doubling) after participating in the program. In the private school study, teacher confidentiality also moved from less than 50 percent feeling confident handling a violent situation to 100 percent of the teachers feeling confident after teaching H.E.R.O.
9. The teachers participating in the pilot study critiqued the curriculum via a Survey Monkey questionnaire. In the public schools, 92.7 percent of the teachers in K-3, 100 percent in grades 4/5, and 100 percent of the teachers (grades K-8) in the private school reported the curriculum was perceived as non-threatening by their students; students were able to learn the stated learning objectives, and the curriculum was easy to use. As one teacher wrote: “the lessons worked!”
10. Multiple students with disabilities successfully participated in the program without an accessibility guide, including cognitive impaired, visually impaired and students who were on the autism spectrum. The guide, called the Student Assistant Guide, is now available. It was designed by special education teachers and school psychologists and is a living document, being constantly updated.
The H.E.R.O. Program is now available for every school district and independent school in the US and provides full support. It is a comprehensive curriculum platform designed to empower teachers with the tools to instruct their students with age-appropriate materials. The program measures student progress, and reduces teacher and school liability.
To implement the H.E.R.O. Program in your school or district, visit www.safekidsinc.com