The heads of two organizations that work with youth say concerted efforts to make local schools safer and more supportive for children have been going on for the past year.
Joseph DeLucca, director of non-public, federal and state programs at Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18, said superintendents of school districts that comprise the LIU – all districts and private schools in Luzerne County plus Tunkhannock Area in Wyoming County – had asked for a coordinated initiative to make their schools safer for students.
So in 2011, the LIU organized the Luzerne County Safe Schools Committee. DeLucca, who spearheaded the effort because of his extensive background in school safety and teen suicide prevention and education, serves as president.
The approximately 30-member committee is a cross-section of community members, including state and local police, school principals, superintendents and community agency representatives, DeLucca said.
He said that while suicide is a major focus and has been brought to the forefront by four recent local cases, the committee takes a broader view of safety.
"The major initiative we are currently working on is our Safe Schools Audit Training, (which will help school districts accomplish) a complete, massive autopsy of their policies, procedures, buildings and grounds. You can't change what you don't know about, so you have to do your assessments first to kind of see what improvements are necessary," DeLucca said.
Another group of volunteers has concentrated on bullying, which has been suggested as a cause of some suicides, although authorities say they have yet to find good evidence.
The Luzerne County Anti-Bullying Coalition began with several organizations, including the Luzerne Foundation, F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, the LIU, ARC of Luzerne County, the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, the NEPA Safe Zone Program of the Family Service Association of Wyoming Valley and the Victims Resource Center.
More have joined as recently as Wednesday, including the United Way and the Children's Service Center, said John Dawe, executive director of the Rainbow Alliance and head of the coalition.
All of the organizations have been working for years to combat – and help young people deal with – bullying in their own ways, Dawe said. But last year, they coalesced to pool resources and work together to address the problem with a unified front.
All of the member organizations seek funding from the Luzerne Foundation, but it makes more sense for the foundation to fund one group for one purpose than it does to fund many organizations for the same purpose, Dawe said.
One coalition initiative is providing access to an anti-bullying film for schools as well as in-service training on pre- and post-film discussion for teachers.
Call John Dawe at 763-9876 for more information on the Luzerne County Anti-Bullying Coalition. Email Joseph DeLucca at email@example.com for more information on the Luzerne County Safe Schools Committee.