San Clemente school administrators, teachers, parents, and law enforcement professionals met at San Clemente Presbyterian Church on Thursday, February 7 to combat bullying and discuss school safety and gang-prevention initiatives through the "Kindness Counts" city-wide campaign.
In honor of Blue Ribbon Week, which raises awareness for child abuse prevention, “Kindness Counts” aims to bring schools together to promote healthier school climates for students, build their self-confidence and empower them to make the right choices.
“We don’t want to marginalize our children,” said Mary Fortmeier, a trainer of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. “We don’t want anyone left out.”
Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Rod Valdez, who has worked in San Clemente for 19 years, advocates countywide programs such as Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, which not only conducts truancy and curfew sweeps, but also has a faculty mentor program and rewards at-risk children for improved grades and attendance. They encourage participation in such events as an annual springtime soccer camp, hosted by the District Attorney’s office, and an Anaheim Angels game where students can watch batting practice.
“We must focus on the good things, not the bad ones,” stated Valdez. “These kids have the opportunity to become successful.”
Elizabeth Lewis, a teacher and GRIP mentor at Bernice Ayer Middle School, stated that a mentor can make a difference for a child in school and said, “We have to a part of the solution.”
According to a statistic on stoptheshootings.org provided by Jeff McKinney, a retired FBI special agent who worked with Carlsbad Police Department, the state of California has had a total of 69 school shootings that resulted in 84 deaths, which is the highest number of school shootings recorded in the country.
McKinney stated that Orange County is in preparation for more law enforcement presence on school campuses and installing panic buttons.
In an emergency situation, McKinney said, "Time is of the essence," and "Every second can be the difference between life or death."
“You are fortunate to live in a proactive district,” said McKinney. “Take comfort knowing that this district is well equipped, trained, and prepared in case this happens.”