As a former physical education teacher, Idaho First Lady Lori Otter had no trouble motivating about 200 Coeur d’Alene elementary students to shout and rise in a bleachers wave inside their school gym Wednesday.
“See! Tell! Now!” yelled the kids at Borah Elementary School as they rose from their seats and flapped their arms.
It was a fun way to share a serious lesson on how to keep each other safe at school.
“We live in a different world now. There’s a lot of stuff going on, huh?” Otter told the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders during the morning assembly. “So there’s scary things that you see in school, but there’s also scary things outside of school and all over the nation.”
She told them, “We don’t want you to be scared, we want you to be smart.”
The “See, Tell, Now” campaign is kicking off across Idaho this year as part of a push to raise awareness of safety threats in the state’s 700 public schools. The state also will perform security assessments in all the schools through the new Office of School Safety and Security, created by the Legislature this year.
The message for kids is simple: Speak up immediately if you see something that doesn’t look or sound right. That could include a stranger in the hallway or bullying, Otter said.
“If you notice something that’s out of place in your school, you have to let somebody know, right? Because you have friends in this school, yes? You have teachers in this school that you like,” she said.
Each student is like a detective, Otter said, and she had them raise their right hands and take an oath to quickly tell an adult anything that seems wrong or weird.
To illustrate the point with humor, the school counselor slipped into the gym wearing a furry llama suit, sending the children into a tizzy of pointing and screaming. An Otter may be OK in school, but a llama certainly stands out, the first lady joked.
“You keep telling until somebody listens to you, because there are bad people, and we need to watch all the time,” she said. “You’re all undercover detectives and you’re all on the lookout for those silly llamas that can hurt us or hurt you.”
The campaign will include television and radio ads, billboards, school posters and coloring books for kids.
The state assessments on school security will take about three years.
“This is designed to help them increase what they’re already doing in building safety,” Otter said after the student assembly. “This building here has its own safety plan, has its own fire drill plan. The teachers and staff are working on that. But it’s really helpful to be able to go into a building and have a fresh set of eyes looking at your campus.”
That could include talking with students about safety concerns from their perspective, she said. “Safety might be something completely different to a 10th-grader or a fifth-grader” than it is to an adult.
The Coeur d’Alene Public Schools spent about $1.4 million on security upgrades at all 17 schools starting in 2013. That included new surveillance cameras, better locks and fencing, controlled entry systems, bus security improvements and updated emergency response plans.
Otter said she hopes the state assessments will help other Idaho school districts make the case for local investment in school security improvements.
“I can’t think of a better argument to make for a fiscal budget allocation than the safety of your students,” she said.
“I’m hoping that it will be an asset to bond levies, to struggling districts, that will help them meet that majority hurdle in order to allow them to reach some of these security measures.”
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