The Somers School District is moving forward on a number of fronts in its battle to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all students and staff.
Not only has it formed a task force and engaged Altaris Group as school safety consultants, it has hired two more School Resource Officers (SROs), purchased safety vests, implemented single points of entry for each school, and is installing new security vestibules at two of them.
“We do believe we’re a very safe school district, more than we were this time last year,” said schools Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch said at the Board of Education’s Thursday, Sept. 20, meeting.
It also went after, and got, a substantial federal grant that can be used to raise awareness of alcohol and substance abuse, which is especially relevant in today’s age of teen vaping.
The Board of Education voted to award bids to contractors as part of Phase 2 of its safety capital improvement project.
Once contracts are finalized, work can get going on the security vestibules at the Primrose Elementary School on Route 139 and the Somers Middle School on Route 202.
The general contracting bid was awarded to Meyer Contracting Corp. of Pleasant Valley, for $633,000.
The heating, ventilating and air conditioning bid was awarded to Mengler Mechanical Inc. of Brewster in the amount of $199,000.
Electrical work for the vestibules will be done by Foremost Electrical Corp., of Brewster, which put in a bid of $50,700.
It also approved a $41,295 bid submitted by Consolidated Hudson Electric Corp. of Irvington for another piece of the safety and security project – a VOIP, or voice over internet protocol, system.
As part of this, each classroom will be equipped with a phone that will allow teachers to contact emergency responders and for those responders to know exactly from which classroom the call came.
The district, partnering with the Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services, has hired retired police Officer Daniel Corrado as a part-time safety and security coordinator.
Blanch announced last week that Corrado will come onboard in November and will be working with Altaris security experts and district and building-level administrators, School Resource Officers, and emergency response agencies.
Corrado is a 23-year veteran of law enforcement in Westchester and has extensive experience as a youth officer and a detective sergeant overseeing a detective division.
“We are fortunate to have Dan Corrado in the district,” Blanch said. “Our primary responsibility is to ensure a safe and secure environment for students. Having a dedicated security expert will keep us current with best practices in school safety, and the opportunity to hone our safety drills, procedures and protocol.”
Corrado will work with Joe Bernardi, the district’s director of transportation and chief emergency officer, making sure all the necessary drills are completed, among other things.
The coordinator “would bring our level of expertise up,” Blanch said.
By using grant money to hire a safety coordinator, the district can really take a deep dive into its commitment to train staff and students, not, Blanch said, as a “one and done” deal but continuously throughout the school year.
Repetition creates, as Altaris founder John LaPlaca said, “muscle memory” that could be crucial during an emergency situation.
The grant money can be used for public service announcements, some of which could be student generated, Blanch said.
DRUG FREE GRANT
Blanch also announced that the district and Somers Partners in Prevention have been awarded a federal grant by the Drug Free Communities Support Program.
The $125,000 grant is aimed at reducing substance abuse among students, in part by strengthening collaboration among community groups. Over five years, the total award would amount to $625,000.
The money will also be used to expand the district’s Youth-to-Youth club to the middle school and enable the part-time student assistance counselor at the high school to be there five days a week.
“This funding will allow us to do things that were financially out of our reach,” says Phil Kavanagh, director of counseling at the high school. “One of our goals is help our students better understand how substance abuse and mental health are intertwined, often going hand-in-hand.”
Kavanagh will work closely with Kathy Cucchiarella, who chairs the Town of Somers Partners in Prevention.
“We are very excited to receive this grant,” Cucchiarella said, adding that the group plans to continue its efforts to raise awareness about alcohol and substance abuse, especially in light of new “challenges” such as the vaping craze among young people.
The Drug-Free Communities Support Program awarded 731 grants totaling $90.9 million this year. Somers’ was among 17 grants handed out in New York this year.
One of the grant program’s goals is to encourage communities to combat substance abuse.
The district plans to hold town-hall style events for students, parents, and community members.
Vaping is big issue all across the country, and the grant money would be used towards educating children, parents and local businesses.
Local law enforcement would conduct sting operations were a youth volunteer would try to buy e-cigarettes to make sure businesses are asking for the appropriate identification, Blanch said.
According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General in 2016, vaping has risen by 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015.
E-cigarettes turn liquids, sometimes flavored, in vapor that is inhaled into the user’s lungs.
It’s harder to clamp down on usage because the vapor doesn’t have an odor and devices can be disguised as pens and even USB sticks.
The district is also weighing installing new technology in school bathrooms that could monitor “air quality” and perhaps detect if smoking, or vaping, is taking place.
With 1,100 students in the district, and only a certain number of monitors and administrators available, it’s “very, very difficult” to keep track of that kind of thing, Blanch said.