Encouraging more adults to be attentive and willing to intervene
early in addressing problems is the first priority in keeping students safe,
North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has said.
Wos joined Gov. Pat McCrory for a visit to John T. Hoggard High
School in Wilmington on Friday, Sept. 6, to unveil a recent safer schools
report and announce the establishment of a task force to address school safety
She spoke of a new tool they were working to bring to North
Carolina involving youth mental health first aid.
“Just like we all know we have CPR certification, presently
there is evidence-based programs that train adults to be attentive to mental
health issues of the students and to intervene before the problems escalate,”
Wos told a crowd of students, community and state leaders and law enforcement
officials gathered in the school’s library. “This new program will include
training to recognize unique risk factors, to recognize early warning signs both
in mental health problems in our adolescents as well as substance abuse and how
we can help you — the youth.”
Mental health and addiction were among issues of greatest
interest regarding safer schools, McCrory said, adding he soon hoped to
announce initiatives to fight addiction and drug and alcohol abuse among
“We’re very concerned about your future,” McCrory told the
students. “If there is abuse and drugs and alcohol at such a young age, that’s
going to impact your future families and your ability to get a job and have a
Bullying and cyberbullying were also major concerns, the
“The peer pressures that you’re under now are something that my
generation didn’t have to deal with,” McCrory said. “I can’t imagine the peer
pressure or the bullying of what you get in Facebook and tweeting.”
Mental health, physical security, school climate and emergency
preparedness were main focuses of a recent report by the Center for Safer
Schools, which McCrory established earlier this year within the state
Department of Public Safety.
The center held a series of forums throughout the state this
year to learn from students, parents and education officials about school
safety needs, said State Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry, who also attended
“We’ve learned that school safety starts and ends within the
community and the families of students attending these schools,” Perry said.
McCrory also established the Governor’s Task Force on Safer
Schools this month to help advise the center. About 20 members will serve on
the task force, including school board members, law enforcement officers,
school administrators, a teacher, a student, a parent, a school psychologist
and a juvenile justice professional.
Before the event, a group of citizens, including some teachers,
gathered outside Hoggard to voice concerns about public education funding.
Tara Smith-Russell, a parent and a substitute teacher at the
Cape Fear Center for Inquiry, was among those holding signs and passing out
information about the North Carolina Association of Educators.
“I would like to see more money put into our public schools; I
think we need to strengthen them to make them successful,” Smith-Russell said.
“I’ve seen wonderful things done by our teachers.
They work so hard … We should value them as educators; they need
After the event, McCrory addressed the issue of teacher protest
and education funding concerns.
“I concur with some of what the teachers are saying,” McCrory
said, adding he strongly disagreed with a legislative decision to put education
policy into the budget resolution.
McCrory noted he had made some amendments, including asking the
state school board to reinstate master’s pay for teachers currently in that
“My budget did include a teacher pay raise, but in defense the
Medicaid just blew our budget away,” McCrory also said. “I’m going to be
looking for every way I can to get teachers more money, and I also am going to
ask … the teacher unions to give us more flexibility to reward the best of the
Meanwhile, during the event Wos and McCrory encouraged students
to reach out to each other, such as sitting with a lonely classmate at lunch.
“That student could be dealing with major issues that we’re not
aware of, whether it be (at) home or with fellow students. Seek out and help
them,” McCrory said. “So you also have a responsibility.”
“The impact that you can have on another human being is just
absolutely monumental,” Wos said. “Please be attentive to others. Your
intervention can actually save another human being’s life.”