Panama Central School Hosts Sandy Hook Promise Club Leadership Conference
PANAMA — Nearly 100 area high school students know a little more about ways they can help prevent violence in their schools after attending a Sandy Hook Promise Club Leadership Conference at Panama Central School.
The Sandy Hook Promise began and is founded by family members of those killed during the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to educate and empower youth and adults to prevent violence in schools, homes and communities. In addition to Panama students, students from Southwestern, Falconer, Frewsburg, Clymer, Perry and Eden attended.
Students Against Violence Everywhere, or SAVE, partnered with the Sandy Hook Promise in 2017. SAVE was formed after a shooting in 1989 at a party where a student was killed after a rival football team showed up intending to commit violence. The two organizations work together to help end school shootings and violence through initiatives such as the conference.
Helen Keefe, Panama Central School teacher who also serves as SAVE/Students Against Destructive Decisions and National Honor Society advisor,said Panama ended up as the first host school for the conference in the area because of being in contact with managers for months.
“I had been in communication with people from the SAVE organization,” Keefe said. “We exchanged several emails and I talked with the manager of the North East Region and told them I would talk with our administration.”
Keefe said they were one of seven schools interested in hosting and ended up becoming the hosts because they were able to work and get it approved with administration quickly
Keefe said not all schools have SAVE programs, but do have other similar student organizations such as SADD or National Honor Society. Many schools came to learn more about the program and see how they can add it into their programs, bringing student officers from the leadership programs that the schools had. SAVE has the ability to stand alone as a group but can also be incorporated into SADD or NHS. At Panama the group of students is the same, so SAVE has been incorporated into SADD.
Keefe said around 83 people were in attendance. Participating students began with ice breakers and had to mix it up so they were not only with the schools that they came from to do the designated activities. Activities focused on problem solving and how students may be able to see and stop a problem before it has the chance to start.
Similar activities are expected to continue at each participating school throughout the year. Keefe said the Sandy Hook Promise gave each school an activity book that includes different ideas for each month.
Overall, the day went very well.
“The students loved it and had a great time,” Keefe said. “After the ice breakers it didn’t take long for them all to be laughing together. It was great to see the students interacting and making friends and learning to keep their ears open and when they see something that could become a potential problem to be able to stop it.”
Other schools and administrators in attendance agreed.
“It was great to so many young minds at work on how they can make their schools and their communities stronger and safer,” Scott Costantini, High School Principal at Panama said.
ELA teacher and student council and SAVE advisor at Clymer, Amber Brunco said the conference allowed for students to be able to consider the impact they can have on each other, and learn how to bring each other together.
“The students of Clymer Central School were blessed to be a part of the tasks that the SAVE Club representatives assigned them, and I’m confident that each student in Clymer’s Student Council, SADD and National Honor Society clubs left with a stronger understanding of the importance of being kind and considerate to their peers and school community,” Brunco said.
Michelle Pitts, SADD Advisor and teacher at Falconer Central School, said the conference will be invaluable.
“This training was great and the resources that we were given will be helpful in implementing new ideas of inclusion for our school,” Pitts said. “My kids were excited when we left and continued to talk about it the rest of the day. We are so happy to partner with SAVE Promise clubs and the Sandy Hook Promise group. It will be invaluable to our school.”
James Sposato, SADD Advisor and math teacher at Frewsburg said the conference was a great event which left students motivated.
“The Sandy Hook/SAVE conference was an amazing event,” Sposato said. “My students really enjoyed it, they got to hear awesome ideas from other school districts as well as plan some fantastic activities for our own school. We came away excited and motivated to make a difference in our district.”
Keefe said while the nonprofit aims to give all schools the opportunity to host the conference, she hoped someday to be able to host or attend again. She added that the most important takeaway from the conference is the organization’s mission to help students learn how to prevent violence.
“If a student sees someone alone or sees something that might not be right, they can learn to reach out to them,” Keefe said. “Recognizing something that could turn into a threat, and reaching out to change that can be a big difference why someone might change their minds from a negative to positive thought.”