Penn State-led project works to help prevent violence in schools

Children in remote locations, including children in military families, can face a variety of struggles, including violence in schools and other environments. Penn State researchers developed a new publication that will assist schools in evaluating the violence prevention resources they may be using to help these students in need.

The Schools Empowering At-Risk Students (SEAS) team at the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State recently published their work in The Rural Educator.

SEAS is a Penn State-led, five-year project that provides additional support for children of military families, who can be at greater social-emotional risk given frequent moves and other stressors. The SEAS team produced a component analysis of free online violent threat assessment tools for schools titled, Google It.

The analysis is meant to provide a comparison between existing, free, online school-based threat assessment resources to an evidence-based threat assessment framework.

Cristin Hall, principal investigator of SEAS and assistant professor of education in school psychology, said this research looks into the free resources schools may be using to provide support for their students in emotional and skill development, and how well these online resources are communicating evidence-based principles.

“Schools clearly have people who are trying their best, but those people might not be purchasing off the shelf, manualized programs,” Hall said. “We wanted to take a look at what resources they’re using for free.”

The findings from the analysis revealed that though the evaluated online threat assessment resources were not as comprehensive as evidence-based guidelines, they can still be useful.

Many rural schools face hardships when trying to gain access to training and support in handling violence, suicidal behavior, bullying, and other behavioral and emotional issues facing their students. Hall said this is why it’s important to help staff in schools to be thoughtful of what they locate online and make recommendations to them on what effective tools to look for.

“Student support staff, such as counselors and psychologists, are pretty overrun,” Hall said. “We’re telling personnel that they need to help kids and use evidence-based tools, but online resources can be acceptable if they’ve been carefully vetted for content quality.”

SEAS is funded by a grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Military-Connected Academic and Support Programs and Hall said that this research will help the DoDEA to inform their policy moving forward related to threat.

“We’ve previously helped them with a variety of challenges that relate to high risk social and emotional adjustment for kids in military families,” Hall said.

SEAS isn’t stopping their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team has been working on resources to provide coping skills online during this time for students, all while continuing to research the content related to social-emotional risk in schools being shared on the internet and developing tools for implementation in DoDEA as well as public schools that serve military-connected students.

“My team is fantastic,” Hall said. “I would not be able to do the work I do without them.”

The Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness is an applied research center committed to advancing the health and well-being of service members and their families. The Clearinghouse takes a solution-oriented approach that includes conducting applied research studies, building workforce expertise through training and resource provision, implementing and evaluating evidence-informed programs and practices, and delivering objective data and policy-relevant findings so that decisions are based on the best science and evidence available. The Clearinghouse is located within Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.