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International School Psychology

Becoming PREPaREd in Canada: NASP Crisis Prevention and Intervention Curriculum International Debut

By Allen Marr

New Brunswick is a small Maritime province in Canada bordering on Maine. With just 700,000 people, the population is clustered in small cities and towns. Nevertheless, tragedies happen here as they do elsewhere and there is a need to be prepared.

As the lead responder for tragic events in my school district of 16,200 students, I was excited to learn that NASP had developed a curriculum founded upon evidence-based practices for preparation and response to crises, and over the last two NASP conferences, I participated in the PREPaRE curriculum training. The training provided the material that school leaders and mental health professionals would need to know in ensuring a positive and safe school environment. It also offered assistance on how to respond as a school system during a tragic event and how to respond after an event has ended. As a result of my participation in the program, my school district agreed to invite a PREPaRE training team to conduct the 3-day training that comprises workshops #1 and #2 on May 13–15 in Moncton, New Brunswick. It turns out that these were the first PREPaRE training sessions offered within Canada.

It was important that workshop #1 include our principals and district administrators because they have lead responsibilities in crisis prevention and response. In order to require them all to participate, the workshop was scheduled to coincide with the monthly district administrators’ meeting. We then invited other districts’ administrators and therapists (largely school psychologists) to attend.

There were 96 participants in workshop #1. These included district principals, some vice principals, the communication officer, transportation manager, building managers, finance and human resources managers, as well as district educational supervisors and the education director. In workshop #2, 28 psychologists, counselors, and student service leaders from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia participated. Melissa Reeves, a coauthor of PREPaRE, Ted Feinberg, Assistant Executive Director of NASP, and Frank Zenere, a school psychologist and crisis management specialist from the Miami Dade County Public Schools, were the presenters.

Workshop #1 covered the elements that help to define a crisis, prevention practices, and district response practices, including team roles, procedures, and community collaboration. This workshop also emphasized the necessity for creating physically and psychologically safe schools. Developing crisis plans and practicing and evaluating them made up the last part of the day. Workshop #2 was a more intimate affair with a smaller group and an emphasis on therapeutic responding. This workshop discussed the effect of crises, establishing short- and long-term support, intervention, identifying the traumatized, meeting with students, and providing care for the caregiver. Among the essential components of the training was the development of a shared language so that communication is easier no matter what people’s professional roles might be in their regular work assignments. With appropriate training, crisis responders are more confidently able to provide intervention services in an organized and timely manner.

Ted Feinberg stated that the impetus for creating a school crisis prevention and intervention training curriculum came about after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. School psychologists, some of whom lacked adequate crisis intervention skills, were asked to offer assistance to families and children affected by that tragedy. The need for training became even more evident years later when 12 students and a teacher were shot and killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Melissa Reeves informed our participants that as a result of the Columbine experience, she learned that the biggest challenge was not finding people with the right training to respond; rather, it was that they were working with different guidelines and speaking with different languages, which made coordinating the response difficult. The advantage of PREPaRE is that it provides a curriculum that gets everyone working toward the same goals, with an understanding of the special needs of the school community. Our expectation is that the provision of this training in our province will encourage use of this common language and make responses by multiple school jurisdictions to tragedies work more seamlessly. We hope to have school professionals throughout the province with a shared knowledge base and the ability to work together so that they can easily support each other. Frank Zenere, who has responded to the aftermath of numerous high profile crises and disasters, including the 2001 terrorist attack in New York City, the Asian tsunami, and several school shootings, commented that school mental health practitioners need to be prepared to intervene in situations that may call for large collaborative responses, as well as more school specific incidents. Ted Feinberg pointed out that a goal of PREPaRE is to have school teams be able to expand local capability to respond to crises and to empower them to train others.

We were excited to have the opportunity to be the first site in Canada to receive PREPaRE training and hope in the future to host a “Training of Trainers” workshop. All of our district managers as well as school psychologists attended the training, so we feel confident that we have a shared language, shared knowledge of preventive practices, and can ensure a more effective response to tragic events. This conference has enabled us as a district to continue working on our competencies with a curriculum to support our practice. As our provincial Student Service administrators meet, discussions of PREPaRE’s role in increasing competence-based responses will continue.

The professional development opportunities offered to our school psychologists through NASP were invaluable. It was our honor to host the presenters Frank, Melissa, and Ted and we hope that this is the start of future partnerships with NASP. We look forward to future opportunities to collaborate with our school psychologist colleagues from the United States. We share the belief with our Canadian colleagues that safe and healthy schools should be a universal reality for all children.

Allen Marr is a learning specialist and licensed psychologist for School District #2 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.