Student Safety is Top Priority For School Administration at Florida Prep In Melbourne
By Space Coast Daily // August 26, 2018
SPOTLIGHT ON EDUCATION
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – The safety of students within the school setting is paramount on the minds of school administration and parents these days.
While many schools are scrambling to implement safety policies that will prevent tragedies such as the shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida Preparatory Academy is way ahead in established safety standards.
“First and foremost for us is the security of our students,” said dean of students Jay Gideon. “We are following the highest of standards when it comes to the safety of our students and we are constantly updating our emergency procedures.”
Florida Prep’s administration has carefully studied the best practices in the field of student safety and sought recommendations from law enforcement bodies and other private schools to further tweak existing school safety standards that were already some of the most comprehensive in the industry.
This coming school year, parents will see a handsome wrought iron fence with concrete posts encircling the front of the campus. The new fence will join already installed security fencing that encloses and secures the 11 acres that comprise the Florida Prep campus.
“The fencing will be the biggest physical change our student families will notice this fall,” said Gideon.
Signage and lighting is being updated, too, as is the 40-plus camera unit security system.
“Every building will have security cameras,” said Gideon.
While fencing and technology play an important role in student safety, nothing beats the human touch.
“Fences are great, but not an end-all,” said Gideon.
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As a prep school that offers residential opportunities for students, Florida Prep has in place a team of staff who take the safety of students entrusted to their care very seriously.
“Our residential staff are here 24/7,” said Gideon. “If there is someone on campus they do not recognize, whether they are students or adults, they will question that person. We have constant vigilance and a constant presence. We have a lot of eyes on this campus.”
Fostering open communications between students and staff is also a critical component of the school’s safety policies.
“You need to maintain a safe environment yet never lose the comforting environment that encourages education,” said Gideon. “Our students know they can trust us as adults, that we are not here to make life difficult for them, but rather to make their lives better.”
Because the teacher to student ratio is so low, educators know what is going on in their students on a daily basis, and should any emotional or psychological issues occur, these are promptly addressed.
“We have always empowered our staff to reach out to our students, to learn what may be going on in their lives,” said communications director Jeanette Middleton.
On-campus counseling based on parent, student or teacher recommendations is easily arranged.
“If there is a need for a student to take time off, we try to accommodate without impacting the student’s academic progress,” said Gideon. “If we find a student who is not comfortable here, we discuss the issue with the family and recommend other options. I believe in transparency.”
Florida Prep’s student body is truly a global family comprised of young men and women from 30 different countries. These future citizens of the world are sensitive and accepting of the varied backgrounds of their classmates.
“One of our strengths is building relationships among our students,” said Amanda Brittain, associate dean of students. “There is a camaraderie on campus not found elsewhere, and it’s a unique layer to our security. Students automatically look out for each other.”
Maintaining a campus that is welcoming to students and visitors alike is a tough order during a time when violence in the schools is tragically all too real and all too often. Florida Prep encourages visitors such as alumni and guests to its campus, but school staff maintain close contact during the entire time the person is there.
“We have a lot of alumni who want to revisit the campus, and we welcome them with open arms, but we also ask them to be mindful that we are a school in session and they cannot simply wander,” said Gideon. “They are escorted at all times during their visit, which generally consists of a personal tour.”
Of course, student safety extends beyond securing the campus from intruders. Disasters and acts of nature such as hurricanes also pose threats. The school depends on the Punch Alert Safety App to alert teachers to lock down the class if a threat of any kind appears on campus. The app alerts all staff automatically and also shares instantly with a 911 dispatcher.
“It also lets teachers know to hold the students in class because of a weather event such as an upcoming lightning storm,” said Brittain. “It is a communications tool to make our campus as prepared as possible for any eventuality.”
Punch Alert was originally designed to minimize response time due to lack of coordinated communication or incorrect location. Greg Artzt, CEO of Punch Alert notes “every school frequently faces incidents such as accidents, injuries, weather events, fights and other dangerous situations involving students, parents, or visitors.
By communicating through a system like Punch Alert on a regular basis, a school is able to more finely tune its ability to handle, measure, and improve its response for when it needs it the most.”
Through the implementation of standards that approach student safety from all angles, the faculty and staff at Florida Prep has formed an internal responder team that provides a formidable safety net.
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