SAVING OUR SCHOOLS From Hate and Violence:
Research Criteria and Methodology


SAVING OUR SCHOOLS From Hate and Violence (SOS) was developed as a response to the increasing number of school shootings over the past five years. SOS offers students, teachers, counselors and parents immediate help in sorting out the difficult issues present when such terrible events occur and provides educators with an invaluable tool for building critical lines of communication within school communities.  It follows the effective prevention strategies that were recommended by the US Department of Education in it's Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide To Safe Schools[1], and offers practical suggestions for ways students can make their schools safer and more caring places.

SOS features well-known educator and counselor, Michael Pritchard, who is known to audiences across the United States for his ability to help young people gain insight into themselves and the choices they make. He is a humorist, actor, youth activist, former probation officer, and PBS host.  Mr. Pritchard serves on the board of directors for Special Olympics, The California Association of Peer Programs, and the Chinese-American Educational Institute.  He also acts as a consultant to the California Consortium on Child Abuse and the Department of Pediatrics at San Francisco General Hospital.

SOS is an interactive video program which models and promotes research-based strategies. Video instruction is an effective instructional strategy for prevention education.[2]  Fifty-seven percent of public school teachers use video to demonstrate educational concepts to their students.[3]  The violence prevention strategies used in SOS are cited as effective by organizations such as the National Institute of Justice[4], the National Education Association (NEA)[5], Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)[6], and the comprehensive report issued by DRUG STRATEGIES, Safe Schools, Safe Students[7].  Strategies demonstrating effectiveness in reducing youth violence include:

• Using interactive methods such as peer discussion groups

• Enhancing protective factors such as creating strong interpersonal bonds

• Raising student awareness

• Creating a climate of ownership and school pride

• Emphasizing personal responsibility

• Implementing peer counseling and peer mediation programs

• Fostering school norms against bullying, aggression and violence

• Encouraging thinking, social, and resistance skills education for students

• Instituting school-wide communication campaigns to influence school norms about violence

• Building empathy and perspective taking, social problem solving, communication, and character/belief development


Released in the fall of 1999, SOS has already won a Silver Award at WorldFest and is "Highly Recommended" by the Video Librarian.

Researched-Based Practices and Approaches in Saving Our Schools

Identified in Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide To Safe Schools

On June 13, 1998, after the tragic loss of life and injuries at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, President Clinton directed the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop an early warning guide to help "adults reach out to troubled children quickly and effectively." By August, The DOE and DOJ had completed their work and published Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide To Safe Schools, which it distributed to every school in the nation.  It contains their recommendations for effective prevention practices as well as recommendations for dealing with crises through emergency plans.

As noted in its introduction:

The guidelines in this report are based on research and the positive experiences of schools around the country where the value and potential of each and every child is cherished and where good practices have produced, and continue to produce, successful students and communities.[8]

The developers of Saving Our Schools used these recommended prevention practices as the basis of the programs, in particular, focussing on those that are student-centered. The starting point for SOS is the goal articulated for the report by Secretary Richard W. Riley and Attorney General Janet Reno.  They note that:

…Effective schools create environments where children and young people truly feel connected. This is why our common goal must be to reconnect with every child and particularly with those young people who are isolated and troubled.[9]

The report identifies the efficacy of violence prevention as follows:

There is ample documentation that prevention and early intervention efforts can reduce violence and other troubling behaviors in schools (Coie & Jacobs, 1993; Elias & Tobias, 1996). Research-based practices can help school communities recognize the warning signs early, so children can get the help they need before it is too late. In fact, research suggests that some of the most promising prevention and intervention strategies involve the entire educational community--administrators, teachers, families, students, support staff, and community members--working together to form positive relationships with all children(Cornell, 1998, Quinn, Osher, Hoffman, and Hanley, 1998).[10]

Saving Our Schools From Hate and Violence was designed specifically to build critical lines of communication within our school communities and spark honest and direct conversations about violence and school safety between students, teachers and counselors.  Its host Michael Pritchard has remarkable talents to unlock the often remote and confusing world of teens - and in, SOS, these talents are used to produce the types of classroom conversations needed to actively involve students in the process of building safer schools.  Making students active partners in the process in a key message of the report, which notes: It has been found that peers often are the most likely group to know in advance about potential school violence (Greenbaum, 1988; Hamilton Fish National Institute on School & Community Violence, 1988).[11]

As part of this whole-school approach the report identifies the characteristics of effective and safe schools.  SOS was designed to be a powerful tool in building the student-adult communication necessary for creating these characteristics.  Of the 13 traits of safe and responsive schools, SOS addresses the 10 which impact student relations.  (The remaining three pertain to academic achievement, parent involvement, and referral systems for abused or neglected children.)

The characteristics were identified as follows:

·       Emphasize positive relationships among students and staff.  Research shows that a positive relationship with an adult who is available to provide support when needed is one of the most critical factors in preventing student violence (Blum & Rinehart, 1998; Communities in Schools, 1997; Garmezy, 1993; Parese, 1998).   SOS focuses throughout on building positive relationships between students and adults, pointing our that "there is always someone to talk to, find that adult you can talk to".  Impediments to teen-adult communication are explored, particularly the teen attitudes which can close down that communication.

·       Foster positive student interpersonal relations.  They encourage students to help each other and to feel comfortable assisting others in getting help when needed.  A central emphasis of SOS is encouraging positive relationships among students. Major segments are devoted to interactive discussion of practical ways to reach out to students who "might be isolated or depressed" so they can get help when they need it.

·       Discuss safety issues openly.  Schools can reduce the risk of violence by teaching…appropriate strategies for dealing with feelings, expressing anger in appropriate ways, and resolving conflicts (Bodine, Crawford, & Schrumpf, 1995; Cornell, 1998; Poland, 1994). SOS models just this sort of discussion, which is extended into the classroom through study guide questions and student-teacher discussions.

·       Teach children that they are responsible for their actions and that the choices they make have consequences for which they will be held accountable.   Throughout SOS, personal responsibility is stressed as a core value. It is a hallmark of the developers and producers of the program and is a cornerstone of Michael Pritchard's work with teens.  The series ends with students resolving to take personal responsibility for what happens at their schools and for making them safer and more caring places.  Study guides include practical follow-up activities for student-centered whole-school activities.

·       Communicate to students and the greater community that all children are valued and respected (Fine, 1986).  Respecting students' diversity establishes a climate that demonstrates care and a sense of community. Throughout the series, respect for all students is stressed.  Major segments are devoted to interactive discussion of practical ways to reach out to students who are mistreated and included them as part of the whole school community.  Specific examples of disrespect are explored and students are challenged to examine attitudes and beliefs which lead to the acceptance of casual cruelty and disrespect.

·       Create ways for students to share their concerns.It has been found that peers often are the most likely group to know in advance about potential school violence (Greenbaum, 1988; Hamilton Fish National Institute on School  & Community Violence, 1988).  The overarching goal of SOS is to make students active participants in the creation of a safe school environment.  Students identify "early warning signs" of violence and explore the ways they can responsibly share these concerns with adults.

·       Create ways for students to safely report such troubling behaviors that may lead to dangerous situations.  And students who report potential school violence must be protected. It is important for schools to support and foster positive relationships between students and adults so students will feel safe providing information about a potentially dangerous situation. These issues are explored as students discuss the difference between an invasion of privacy and a confidential discussion of concerns. Study guides and internet-based supplemental material also stress the need of confidentiality.

·       Help children feel safe expressing their feelings.  It is very important that children feel safe when expressing their needs, fears, and anxieties to school staff. When they do not have access to caring adults, feelings of isolation, rejection, and disappointment are more likely to occur, increasing the probability of acting-out behaviors (Eccles et al., 1993; Finn, 1989).  SOS is a powerful model of an environment where students feel safe expressing their feelings, and study guides provide practical ways to transfer this to the classroom.  Michael Pritchard is known throughout the country for his ability to draw children into meaningful discussions of their feelings, and this talent is a unique feature of SOS.

·       Promote good citizenship and character. In addition to their academic mission, schools must help students become good citizens.  Effective schools also reinforce and promote the shared values, such as honesty, kindness, responsibility, and respect for others.  These values are stressed throughout the series.  The central focus of program #2 Creating Caring and Safe School Communities is the promotion of these core values.  Study guides include activities which reinforce their development.

·       Take special care in training the entire school community to understand and identify early warning signs.  In SOS, students identify, with remarkable clarity and precision, the warning signs they have been taught to use in their peer mediation and counseling groups.  Among the common signs discussed in SOS and the report are:

 Social withdrawal

Excessive feelings of isolation and being alone

Excessive feelings of rejection

Feelings of being picked on and persecuted

Low school interest and poor academic performance

Expression of violence in writings and drawings

Uncontrolled anger     

Patterns of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating, and bullying behaviors

Intolerance for differences and prejudicial attitudes

Serious threats of violence

The programs and supplemental materials also stress the need for caution in using these signs and the importance of not "blaming, labeling or stigmatizing" any students or groups of students as violence prone.  SOS throughout encourages students to confide in adults about their concerns, recognizing, as the report does, that :  Teachers and administrators--and other school support staff--are not professionally trained to analyze children's feelings and motives. But they are on the front line when it comes to observing troublesome behavior and making referrals to appropriate professionals, such as school social workers, counselors, and nurses.[12]

A major section of the report titled, Intervention: Getting Help for Troubled Kids, identifies three tactics for helping students who are at risk for behavioral problems.  Two of these involve coordinating outside support and referral services.   The third calls on schools to teach positive interaction skills noting that:

…Direct teaching of social problem solving and social decision making is now a standard feature of most effective drug and violence prevention programs (Gresham et al., 1998; Knoff & Batsche, 1995; Lochman, Dunn, & Klimes-Dougan, 1993). Children who are at risk of becoming violent toward themselves or others need additional support. They often need to learn interpersonal, problem solving, and conflict resolution skills at home and in school. They also may need more intensive assistance in learning how to stop and think before they react, and to listen effectively (Gresham et al., 1998; Knoff & Batsche, 1995).[13]

SOS uses an interactive discussion technique to teach the following interpersonal, problem-solving skills:

·       Personal responsibility and awareness of consequences

·       Building empathy and perspective taking

·       Social problem solving

·       Communication  

·       Character/belief development

·       Creating strong interpersonal bonds

·       Awareness of interpersonal causes of violence

·       Critical thinking

·       Development of social and resistance skills

·       Awareness of community norms against bullying, aggression and violence

·       Individual/community responsibilities

Finally the report lists Action Steps for Students[14], all of which are included SOS and its supplemental materials in print and on the web:

·       Listen to your friends if they share troubling feelings or thoughts.

·       Organize an assembly and invite your school psychologist, school social worker, and counselor.

·       Participate in violence prevention programs such as peer mediation and conflict resolution.

·       Help to develop and participate in activities that promote student understanding of differences and that respect the rights of all.

·       Know your school's code of conduct and model responsible behavior.

·       Be a role model.          

·       Seek help from your parents or a trusted adult.

·       Create, join, or support student organizations that combat violence.

·       Get involved in planning, implementing, and evaluating your school's violence prevention and response plan.

·       Work with your teachers and administrators to create a safe process for reporting threats.

·       Ask for permission to invite a law enforcement officer to your school to conduct a safety audit and share safety tips.

Needs Assessment

In addition, as recommended in effective prevention program development[15], the Saving Our Schools program developers implemented a thorough needs assessment in 1997, by conducting thirty focus groups of middle and high school students throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Each group consisted of 15-20 students and lasted one to one and a half hours.  School staff selected participants that reflected the greatest diversity possible–demographically, as well as in attitude and behavior. Groups included young people identified as at-risk, as well as groups representative of the school’s total population.  Data collected from these sessions provided program developers with baseline information about teen attitudes and beliefs about violence, its causes and solutions.

§         The types of violence and aggression they experienced in their lives

§         Their perceptions of its causes

§         Their attitudes and beliefs about violence, and our ability to reduce it

§         The influences that helped form their attitudes and beliefs

§         The influence of the media on shaping their attitudes and beliefs

§         The nature of peer pressure and its influence on their own decision making

§         Their own personal strategies for avoiding violence and dangerous situations

§         The programs and strategies employed at their schools that they found to be most effective with themselves and their peers 

§         Peer mediation and conflict resolution programs at their schools

§         Anger management techniques they have learned that are effective

§         “I” messages and their help in communication

§         Active listening skills

§         Racial conflicts and how they are manifested

§         Male-female relationships and incidents of sexual harassment

§         Hate crimes and gay bashing

§         The presence of guns and other weapons in their schools and communities

§         The presence and types of illegal drugs in their schools and communities

§         The level of alcohol use and abuse in their schools and communities

§         Places they looked to for help when dealing with aggression, violence and other problems

§         Personal sources of strength they have found to deal with violence and other crises


An additional support system available to viewers of the SAVING OUR SCHOOLS From Hate and Violence video programs is the interactive website that has been set up to disseminate pertinent information and provide a forum about school safety issues and practices. The website address is:

These video programs and the corresponding website act as valuable tools to spark honest and direct conversations between students, teachers and counselors and strengthen the lines of communication within your school community.

[1] U.S. Department of Education (1998) Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools, Dwyer, K., Osher, D, and Warger, C.

[2] U.S. Department of Education (1996) Making it Happen, National Technology Plan: Benefits of Technology Use.

[3] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Teacher Follow-up Survey 1994-95; The Condition of Education 1997.

[4] National Institute of Justice (1998) Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t. What’s Promising. Washington DC.

[5] National Education Association (1996) Safe Schools Manual: A resource on making schools, communities and families safe for children. Washington DC.

[6] Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (1995) Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. Rockville, MD. Call 800-638-8736 for a copy.

[7] Drug Strategies (1998) Safe Schools, Safe Students: A Guide to Violence Prevention Strategies, 2445 M, Street NW, Suite 480 Washington DC 20037.

[8] Page 3, U.S. Department of Education (1998) Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools, Dwyer, K., Osher, D, and Warger, C.

[9] Page 3, ibid

[10] Page 6, ibid

[11] Page 8, ibid

[12] Page 10, ibid

[13] Page 18, ibid

[14] Page 22, ibid

[15] Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (1998) Science-based Practices in Substance Abuse Prevention: A Guide.

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