When the subject of classroom safety comes up these days, most people think immediately of the active shooter scenario. And while school shootings are a sad reality, they’re not the top suspect when it comes to injuries and illnesses inside your classroom. Over 4 million students are injured at school every year, and that’s despite the fact that the leading cause of injuries among all school age children—traffic accidents—is not a factor while they’re in class.
The risks don’t stop with injuries, however. The United States Fire Association reports that there are over 4000 school fires every year, for example. Schools are also notorious incubators of contagious diseases. And, most importantly, schools play an essential role in teaching kids how to keep themselves safe. Given all that, it’s important for educators and parents to make themselves aware of the particular risks that schools pose and take steps to help the kids in their care keep safe.
Keep a First-Aid Kit on Hand
Every classroom, regardless of grade-level, needs a good first-aid kit. Play to Learn Preschool offers a comprehensive checklist of first-aid supplies that’s a good guide to follow. It’s aimed at preschool teachers, but can easily be adapted to fit all ages. It includes such staples as:
- Surgical Gloves
- Alcohol Wipes
- Adhesive Pads
- Ice Packs
If you’re a teacher or a concerned parent, you may be able to add more items to your classroom first-aid kit, but make sure you check first with your school administrators for guidelines. They may be more aware of students’ risks and needs than you are.
Instruct Kids on Emergency Response
Once your classroom has a first-aid kit, the next sensible course of action is to teach kids how to use it—and teach them what to do should an injury occur inside the classroom. Points to cover could include:
- Stay calm—kids naturally want to help, so let them know that the best thing they can do is be thoughtful and ready to take direction.
- Stay back unless you’re helping the victim—sometimes, though, kids want to be too helpful. Explain to them the importance of staying in their seats or giving someone who’s injured enough room for help to arrive.
- Go for help—let kids know it’s okay to leave someone alone if need be, if that means getting help there as soon as possible.
- Basic first aid instruction — talk to kids about blood-borne pathogens, and why gloves are important. Show them how to stop bleeding, how to help someone who’s choking, and what not to do with someone who is seriously injured.
- Calling 911—it always helps to practice how the conversation with an emergency responder might go. Role-play with the kids, and let the kids role-play with each other.
KidsHealth offers an entire library of first aid guides for kids, covering everything from allergic reactions to seizures. They’re completely free and ready to print.
Keep Floors and Walkways Clear
As mentioned, falls are significant cause of student injuries. And while many falls happen on the playground, classrooms present their own challenges. Lots of classrooms today have computer labs, for example, where cables can be an issue. Classrooms often sometimes use fabric scraps or floor cushions, which can also create tripping hazards. Take the following precautions to avoid this common classroom danger:
- Make sure floor cables are taped securely in place.
- Use cases and sleeves to protect fragile tablets and laptops from damage.
- Teach kids not to run or rough-house around computers.
- Make sure that areas of the classroom with unavoidable tripping hazards (such as reading corners with floor cushions) are designated “no-running” zones.
Encourage Proper Hygiene
Instruct kids to wash their hands frequently throughout the day, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. The Mayo Clinic offers great information on how to wash hands effectively:
- Use plenty of soap and water.
- Wash for at least 20 seconds.
- Use a clean, dry towel are afterward.
Hand sanitizer is another item you might want to consider having on-hand in the classroom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol are effective at removing many germs, though they’re no substitute for good, old-fashioned soap and water. Hand sanitizers may fail at removing pesticides and heavy metals from skin, as well.
Have an Emergency Plan
The ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Training Institute publishes ideal information for kids on how to react in emergency situations. The book, “I’m Not Scared, I’m Prepared Because I Know All About ALICE” is geared toward kids in grades kindergarten on up. It offers age-appropriate language and scenarios to help kids learn what to do if a “dangerous someone” ever enters their school, such as:
- Listen closely to the teacher.
- Listen for announcements.
- Help the teacher barricade the door.
- Go to a rally point, with the teacher, or without.
The ALICE website also offers free printables for teachers who want to learn more about the right way to talk to kids about danger without scaring them.
Intruders aren’t the only outside threat to your classroom, however. Fire is another. So are storms such as tornados or hurricanes. Have plans in place to deal with each of these scenarios, and make sure you practice them with your students regularly. FEMA is a great resource for learning more about emergency preparedness. They offer entire, free, online curriculums categorized by grade level to help you teach kids what they need to know about storms, blackouts, earthquakes, floods and more. Safety steps to train kids on include:
- Get low to the floor and head for the exit.
- Go immediately. Don’t wait for a second bell to ring.
- Feel the door first. If it’s hot, don’t open it. Use a second escape route instead.
- Stop, drop and roll if your clothes or hair catch fire.
- Meet at the assigned rendezvous point.
Storms and Natural Disasters
- Stay away from windows and doors.
- Put as many walls between yourself and the outside as possible. Use a basement or interior corridor as a gathering place.
- If possible, get beneath a desk or table.
Go back to school this fall well-armed and well-prepared to empower your students. Regardless of grade level, students should know what to do in an emergency, and educators should know how to provide them with the safest environment possible.