Newport-Mesa school board approves pilot program to train young students for on-campus threats

Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees voted Tuesday to pilot the HERO program at three elementary campuses in the 2019-20 school year.
(Julia Sclafani)

Three Newport-Mesa Unified School District elementary campuses will pilot a program this fall designed to provide young students with safety education and help prepare them for potential active-shooter scenarios.

The board of trustees voted 5-0 Tuesday, with Vice President Martha Fluor and member Vicki Snell absent, to approve an agreement with Safe Kids Inc. to provide the HERO program. The one-year pact begins July 1 and will cost $7,750.

HERO — Hide, Escape, Run, Overcome — is designed to teach students how to respond to situations with “simple, easy-to-remember and truly effective strategies,” according to a district staff report.

“This is a pretty heavy-duty topic to be talking about with our youngest students,” said Russell Lee-Sung, the district’s deputy superintendent and chief academic officer. “We were struggling with how to teach this.”

The agreement with Safe Kids will furnish teachers and administrators at Paularino, Kaiser and Lincoln elementary schools with a curriculum tailored to introduce younger students to safety protocols for possible shootings and other violent events on campus. The training will roll out in the fall.

Lessons incorporate English-language arts standards and include classroom discussions, narratives, journals and physical activities. The goal is to help students learn HERO concepts in a nonthreatening and age-appropriate manner.

“I’m sorry that we need you,” board President Charlene Metoyer told Safe Kids representatives after the vote. “Does that make sense?”

“So are we,” organization President Adam Coughran responded.

Campus administrators and school resource officers currently conduct safety training exercises such as fire and earthquake drills, lockdown scenarios for threats on campus and “run, hide, fight” preparations.

In the past, instructors would try to adjust the subject matter to be appropriate for younger students, Lee-Sung said. However, feedback from principals, teachers and parents indicated that approach was not suitable.

“They might talk about a coyote on campus and teach the concepts,” Lee-Sung said, but educators and administrators ultimately felt such piecemeal adaptations were insufficient.

“It’s very difficult to teach that type of concept,” Lee-Sung said, and some parents were concerned about raising the topic of violence on campus at all.

“Unfortunately, it is a necessity in today’s world,” Lee-Sung said.

While Safe Kids develops curriculum for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, Newport-Mesa is piloting a program specifically for elementary students because it “hit a gap that I felt was really a need,” Lee-Sung said.

“Our interest at this point is to focus on elementary” due to “anxiety at that level,” he added. “I did not hear that concern at middle and high school levels.”

Board member Dana Black asked why the pilot program did not include a feeder campus for Estancia High School — such as Rea Elementary — and expressed concern that those students would be left behind. “They are leaving that zone out,” she said.

Lee-Sung said Rea “has many initiatives going on” and might not benefit from the hiccups that come with being a test site.

“As with anything new, there [are] going to be some kinks to work out,” Lee-Sung said. “If this starts to develop the momentum that I believe it will, we will get them all on board.”

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