By Terry Dean
The Newtown, Conn. school shooting served as a backdrop for recent discussion between the principal and students at Oak Park and River Forest High School on Jan. 16.
Principal Nathaniel Rouse talked about school safety during his morning "Huskie Huddle" with students. These somewhat informal talks about issues on students' minds began last fall. They take place for about an hour in the Little Theater on OPRF's late arrival Wednesdays, where students begin classes about an hour later than normal.
The Jan. 16 Huskie Huddle was the second one hosted by Rouse this school year, with school safety as the topic. About 20 students showed up for the talk. Rouse, who spoke to Wednesday Journal last week, said the Huddle is a way to entice students to discuss topics they're interested in.
Rouse said OPRF, like many schools in the country, was affected by the Dec. 14, shooting where 20 schoolchildren and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
In the aftermath of the shooting that Friday morning, Rouse and other OPRF staff informed parents that the high school had procedures in place if such a thing were to occur there.
At the Jan. 16 Huskie Huddle, Rouse reiterated that to students, along with talking about the importance of school safety and some of the policies the school had put in place prior to the Sandy Hook tragedy. The students were interested and engaged in the brief discussion, Rouse said.
"Coming after such a significant tragedy, there is a little more focus on school safety. [The Huskie Huddle] is a way of providing students a structure to have a discussion with students, and they like and appreciate that," he said.
In early February, the school will have an emergency drill, where the building will be locked down. Oak Park police will help facilitate, and it'll be publicized to parents well before hand, Rouse said.
Currently in his fifth year as principal, Rouse has been instrumental in implementing many policy and procedural changes regarding improving safety. The modified closed campus was put in place two years ago. Student ID's are now mandatory to wear. The school has also restructured its security and support staff to better deploy adult staff in the building.
That restructuring will continue this summer with the creation of a director of campus security post. This person will have the primary responsibility and oversight of the building's current safety and support staff, Rouse said.
"It won't just be a supervisory role, but will serve as the beat and pulse in the building about how to make our campus safer," he said.
Rouse adds that they'll be more Huskie Huddles this spring, taking place on late arrival Wednesdays and open to any students who want to come.