Valley schools benefit from Sandy Hook Promise programs

By Samantha Phillips


Parents of children who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting created a nonprofit organization with an impact that has touched the Mahoning Valley.

Sandy Hook Promise implements free programs in middle and high schools that teach students, administrators and teachers how to identify warning signs of potential violent actions by students and create a more inclusive school community. The idea is to recognize when a student is socially isolated or is having mental or emotional trouble that could escalate to them harming himself or herself, or others.

State Rep. Glenn Holmes of McDonald, D-63rd, met with Sandy Hook Promise representatives recently to discuss continuing to spread the programs through the Valley.

“It’s training, education, awareness – we aren’t going after your gun,” he said. “When we try to identify and help those that need help, that cures a number of things.”

The programs were introduced in the Boardman, Campbell, Austintown, Canfield, Lowellville and Western Reserve school districts. Sandy Hook Promise visited some of the Youngstown City Schools a few times last year through Nonviolence Week and Sojourn to the Past.

Preventing school violence is an uphill battle that will require a multi-faceted approach, and Nicole Hockley, a co-founder of the group whose son died at Sandy Hook, said implementing measures such as armed guards aren’t enough.

“All the discussions around the hardening of schools is about dealing with the imminent danger. That, from my perspective, means it’s too late. We deal with upstream violence. Deal with someone before they pick up a weapon to fire and hurt themselves or others,” she said.

Hockley said the group pushes to have recurring programs or clubs established, and so far Poland, Canfield, Youngstown Diocese and Boardman, along with Choffin and Mahoning County Career and Technical Centers, have established clubs or repeating programs.

“There’s a huge spectrum of at-risk behavior,” she said. “Our nexus is gun violence and school shootings, but the vast majority of people will never experience that – but they will experience some other behaviors on that risk spectrum.”

“Prevention is critical, not just for school shootings, but for suicide, cutting, bullying. If we can recognize the signs and symptoms, we can make sure the situation doesn’t escalate,” she added.

At least 35,000 students have gone through the training in Mahoning County.

Nationally, 3.5 million have gone through the training, Hockley said.

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