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NASP Communiqué, Vol. 37, #5
January/February 2009

Crisis Management

Reflections on Implementation of the PREPaRE Crisis Prevention and Intervention Curriculum

After a nationwide search, the NASP PREPaRE Workgroup recently invited Brian Lazzaro, Christina Conolly-Wilson, and Melinda Susan to join the workgroup. This was done in an attempt to meet the ever-increasing demand and associated duties that accompany the dissemination of the PREPaRE Crisis Prevention and Intervention Training Curriculum. In this article our newest workgroup members introduce themselves to Communiqué readers and provide reflections regarding their first-hand crisis experiences and utilization of the PREPaRE curriculum at the local level.

—Melissa A. Reeves & Stephen E. Brock

My name is Brian Lazzaro and I am happy to be able to contribute as a new member of the NASP PREPaRE Workgroup. As you may already know, the PREPaRE crisis curriculum has been developed by NASP to provide an evidence-based resource that helps schools prevent and respond to school crises. One of my goals in becoming a workgroup member and PREPaRE workshop trainer is to train as many interested school personnel as possible. In doing so, I hope to create a nationwide network of trained and well-informed educators that understand the importance of prevention programming and effective crisis interventions. In my work as a PREPaRE workshop trainer I have specifically targeted school psychology training programs because I believe it is important for new school psychologists to have this training as they enter our nation’s schools.

         Many times, my graduate students have asked me why I am interested in the area of crisis response. I tell them that, historically, there has not been a tremendous amount of emotional support for people who have been victims of crises. I am very happy to see that this is no longer the case in our society. The phrase often stated by the media, “Counselors will be available for students,” was not always as familiar as it has now become. The PREPaRE curriculum teaches that most people will recover naturally in the aftermath of a crisis; however, there will inevitably be some who feel overwhelmed and will need extra support.

         Recently, I attended a training session at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. As I was walking to my car I passed by Cole Hall where six students were tragically shot and killed and 18 students were wounded last February 14th. The only reminders of what had taken place there were a single rose slipped through the handles of a door and a grieving student sitting on a nearby park bench quietly reflecting. Bearing witness to the aftermath of such tragedy motivates me in my work.

         My first deployment as a crisis team member was to assist firemen, policemen, and other workers at Ground Zero during a week in December 2001. Since then, I have remained active on local crisis assistance teams responding to student tragedies involving fatal car accidents and other similar student crises. Over the years, perhaps the biggest lesson that I have taken away from my experiences is the value and importance of prevention. Prevention programming in schools is paramount. At the end of a PREPaRE workshop I like to challenge the participants and ask them what they plan on taking back to their district to make their schools safer. More specifically, I ask them: “Can you improve the climate of your school?” and “What issues are your schools dealing with and what programs might be implemented to address these issues?” Our goal is to make all of our schools safer places where we can nurture students’ natural curiosities, growth, and learning.

         There has been a proliferation of research disseminated in recent years regarding school crisis prevention and intervention. In my experience, the primary authors of PREPaRE—Stephen Brock, Melissa Reeves, Amanda Nickerson, and Shane Jimerson—have expertly crafted the current curriculum. The information was synthesized to deliver a comprehensive and standardized experience where participants walk away from the workshops with a solid foundation for crisis prevention and intervention work. I have no doubt that this curriculum will evolve and continue to improve as research continues to advance quickly in this area, and believe that PREPaRE is the premiere curriculum in school crisis prevention and response. As I look toward the future and my work with PREPaRE, I foresee the program continuing to grow nationwide.

Brian Lazzaro

My name is Christina Conolly-Wilson and I am currently the Coordinator of Psychological Services and the District-Wide Crisis Intervention Team Leader for the Waukegan Public Schools in northern Illinois. I became interested in participating on the PREPaRE Workgroup because of my strong desire to spread the good news of the power of the PREPaRE curriculum. My experience in working with the Houston Independent School District and the NOVA curriculum left me wishing for a crisis intervention program specifically created to work in a school setting and one that addresses the developmental needs of children and adolescents. In addition, my current school district previously used the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) model and it was my observation that the CISD debriefing model (as employed in my school district) left the students feeling emotionally vulnerable and exposed because there was no closure after the debriefing session. In fact, this led some of our school administrators to feel that our crisis interventions actually made the students feel worse. When I learned that NASP was in the process of creating a school-based crisis intervention curriculum and piloting it at the NASP convention in California, I asked our Illinois NASP delegate if I could attend. Since that time, I have been spreading the news to other mental health professionals in Illinois that the PREPaRE curriculum is excellent and using it to train all of our mental health staff . In addition, I have promoted our PREPaRE trainings to other school psychologists in Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, and invite them to attend my training sessions in Waukegan.

         The Waukegan Public Schools received a multimillion dollar grant through the Department of Education to have response to intervention (RTI) implemented in our schools at every level in the district by 2010. I often explain to the district’s administration how PREPaRE fits with our RTI and PBIS efforts. I am able to “sell” the idea to them by illustrating how Tier 1 crisis intervention efforts include: (a) prevention before a crisis occurs, (b) preparing for future crises, and (c) providing types of crisis interventions services (e.g., psychoeducation, ensuring safety and security). Tier 2 efforts include psychoeducation and individual and group crisis intervention sessions. Finally, Tier 3 efforts, which include psychotherapy and referrals to outside sources, are important because this allows students who require the most intensive support to receive those services. Following promotion of the PREPaRE curriculum and crisis intervention in the schools, the school board increased our crisis intervention budget in the past 3 years from $0 to approximately $150,000.

         I wanted to join the PREPaRE Workgroup to help other school districts revise their crisis intervention models and request additional funding to help make this a possibility. I strongly believe that PREPaRE is the one crisis prevention and response model that can positively impact the lives of our students in schools nationwide. I want to not only make PREPaRE known to my fellow school psychologists as the number one crisis intervention curriculum for our schools, but also to promote PREPaRE to our nation.

         As the District-Wide Crisis Intervention team leader and one of three PREPaRE trainers in my district, I coordinate the PREPaRE trainings for the northeast region of Illinois and Southeast Wisconsin. We hold at least two PREPaRE trainings in Waukegan each school year. The other two PREPaRE trainers in the district are also on our crisis intervention team and they just attended the Trainer of Trainer (ToT) workshops in April of 2008. I also conduct PREPaRE trainings at National Louis University in Skokie, IL.

         In addition, my school district is in the process of revising its crisis intervention plan to meet our state guidelines. As the cochairperson of this process, we are incorporating the PREPaRE model into the plan to make sure that our district has written prevention and intervention guidelines for the district.

         I see NASP helping PREPaRE move toward being a national model for school crisis intervention. I am currently working with my colleagues on the PREPaRE workgroup to write a grant to obtain funding to conduct additional research on the effectiveness of the PREPaRE curriculum. My goal is to have every school psychologist trained in PREPaRE by 2012. If we, in partnership with our numerous local trainers across the country, continue to hold PREPaRE trainings in school districts and universities across the country, I believe we can accomplish this goal.

Christina Conolly-Wilson

My name is Melinda K. Susan. I currently work as a special education principal for the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE). I initially applied for the PREPaRE workgroup as part of my own professional journey in crisis preparedness and response. PREPaRE has roots in my home state of California. The primary authors of Workshop 2 introduced a similar curriculum through the California Association of School Psychologist (CASP). The workshop was a requirement for individuals who wanted to obtain a certificate of advanced training and specialization (CATS) in school crisis prevention, response, and intervention. As a California CATS crisis trainer and member of the California crisis specialty group, I was thrilled with the prospect that a standardized curriculum would be available on a national level. The CASP curriculum has subsequently been replaced with the PREPaRE Crisis Intervention and Recovery Workshop (2-day workshop) for the crisis CATS.

         My first introduction to a regional crisis response occurred when I was an intern in Humboldt County and assisted NASP’s National Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT) when they came to assist following the brutal murder of a mother, daughter, and family friend just outside of Yosemite National Park. From this response, I learned valuable lessons about the need for local training. The NEAT team relies on local experts and school teams to provide support and information. The PREPaRE workshops are designed to support schools in creating crisis teams and responding as often as possible “in house.” This focus on creating local experts and empowering schools to prepare for and respond to crisis events has become a driving force for me. School cultures are unique and a team effort is advantageous for numerous reasons including building on a wide variety of expertise and providing support for one another. The PREPaRE workshops clearly emphasize these points. I believe that school psychologists are ideally suited to serve as crisis team leaders. What often inhibits them in this role is poor administrative support and a lack of confidence and training. I feel that it is crucial to make crisis training a requirement for both school psychology and school counseling programs. I advocate that a strong research-based program like PREPaRE can facilitate attainment of this goal. I am especially enthusiastic about the fact that several PREPaRE Workgroup members have just finished authoring a textbook based on the curriculum and I believe that this will further promote the crisis prevention and intervention training of school psychologists and counselors.

         While site-based crisis preparedness is a necessity, countywide training strengthens capacity even more. For 5 years, I have served on the Sonoma County Crisis Steering Committee. Sonoma County was awarded a million-dollar U.S. Department of Education grant for emergency preparedness. As part of the grant, we were asked to create a crisis plan and to develop trainings. I coauthored the plan with one of our Safe Schools’ counselors. The plan morphed over time into the Sonoma County School Crisis Response and Recovery Manual. A significant amount of information that was added to the manual was adapted from the CASP and PREPaRE curriculums. As part of the process, countywide trainings were conducted that included school psychologists, school resource officers, administrators, counselors, teachers, and school nurses. The steering committee also includes members that have been deemed the System of Support (SOS). These are individuals from various agencies who respond to crises at our local schools. They were trained alongside school teams. Our focus has been to empower school teams to manage the crisis response while having access to outside agencies that understand the process and are able to provide support in their skill areas.

         Another activity of our steering committee is quarterly crisis review meetings. We meet with school members who have been impacted by a crisis, and we review what happened and discuss lessons learned and what support or changes we need for the future. From these discussions, we have developed additional trainings, modified existing trainings, fostered stronger connections with first responders, and provided additional resources to local schools. The PREPaRE curriculum has been strongly entwined in this process.

         One of the biggest advantages of the PREPaRE curriculum is its adaptability. As a new school administrator, I understand the time limitations that administrators have for trainings. I pulled out the most salient information for administrators from the PREPaRE workshops and have developed a 3-hour training for administrators. Additionally, I have used PREPaRE at California State University, Sonoma, where I have taught in the school counseling training program. The flexibility of providing either Workshop 1 or Workshop 2, or both, has been quite beneficial. Target audiences can be established, which increases interest and follow-through.

         In the future, I believe that the PREPaRE curriculum will be used on an international level. While crisis events are unique, the information provided in the workshops is universal. Once the PREPaRE book is published, I think that university training programs will use it as the model text. Also, while the materials focus on K–12 schools, there will be requests for modifications that address postsecondary settings, particularly in light of recent tragedies including Virginia Tech. Understandably, I could not be prouder to be part of such an important work group, and I am thrilled by what the future may hold.

Melinda Susan

Melissa A. Reeves, PhD, and Stephen E. Brock, PhD, are Chair and Cochair, respectively, of the PREPaRE Workgroup.