082819 NSTN NSPS opening day 1182.JPG

Students stream into Wheeler High School as North Stonington Public Schools opened for the new school year on Aug. 28. The schools have been enhanced with new safety features aimed at preventing violence. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

NORTH STONINGTON — School administrators say that a new resource offered through Sandy Hook Promise will build on North Stonington's multi-pronged approach to student safety.

The North Stonington public school district has been accepted to participate as a member of the Say Something initiative. The program is a regional reporting system for students that provides anonymous 24-7 access to resources and crisis team members who can aid students in an emergency.

The system will be run through Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Conn., that was formed in the aftermath of the 2012 school massacre "to create a culture engaged in preventing shootings, violence and other harmful acts in schools."

"This is another asset that we can add to a more comprehensive plan aimed at promoting and constantly improving student safety in our district," Superintendent of Schools Peter L. Nero said. "This opens a line of communication that could potentially help our students, even when the threat or concern doesn't take place on school grounds or during school hours."

According to the Sandy Hook Promise website, Say Something is a no-cost, easy-to-implement program that can be delivered in classes, assemblies or via student ambassadors. Training takes 50 minutes or less with a wide range of post-training activities and events to ensure sustainability and integration into the school culture.

Sandy Hook Promise conducts all training with educators and/or students, free of charge. The organization said this week that training is underway in other parts of the state and will soon come to Region 4, which will comprise towns in southeastern Connecticut, including North Stonington.

Regional training will be conducted in the coming months.

The system operates in several ways, providing phone call-in information as well as a website and mobile app that will be monitored at all times. Any calls or messages may remain anonymous and operators will contact crisis team members or other local personnel if there is a need for them to become involved.

"The more opportunities we give our students and the world around us a chance to speak out, the more benefit it will provide for everyone involved," said Wheeler High School Principal Kristen St. Germain.

"The concept of this isn't new; we've always allowed for a certain level on anonymity," she continued. "There will be a challenge in sifting through to make sure we are not missing anything, but not every child is comfortable coming forward and this delivers them a way to make sure their voice, and more importantly their concerns, are heard."

North Stonington had applied in March and was accepted into the program on Sept. 9 — as it happened, just hours after a Westerly juvenile was charged with threatening after he was accused of sending images through Snapchat to Wheeler High School students. The images were of guns, and there was threatening language.

Nero praised the efforts of his staff and local law enforcement officials, who learned of the threat through an open-door policy that gave students access to immediate help. The incident played out over a period of less than three hours, from the time that administrators were told of the message to the suspect's arrest. Parents were notified and police and school officials in Connecticut and Rhode Island got involved.

The Say Something program was brought to Nero's attention by North Stonington Emergency Management Director Gary Baron. Nero said that Baron has worked diligently to provide information and opportunities to improve safety at the schools and other town facilities.

Nero said the new program will have the advantage of addressing problems on and off campus and would be available as a contact point for students if incidents occur after hours or on weekends.

Nero and St. Germain said the program itself would only work as part of a larger plan. In North Stonington, that includes safety improvements recently made to facilities, including the installation of bullet-resistant glass and lock-down enhanced vestibules, a revamped, comprehensive crisis and emergency response plan, and community engagement.

The administrators said community involvement helped to reduce the impact of the Sept. 9 incident.

"The parents in this district have been phenomenal," Nero said. "I've received a lot of feedback on our efforts. I can say that I have a lot of confidence in this community to do the right thing and remain engaged, from its leaders in and outside the district to the parents and students."

For more on the Sandy Hook Promise and Say Something initiative, visit sandyhookpromise.org.

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