Think back to that first day of school. It’s full of fresh energy. It’s intimidating and fun. It’s exhausting and exhilarating. In the long run, you remember little from it, but it somehow helps shape the entire school year. Now, imagine the night before you were up until 4 a.m. because your parents were fighting, and the police were called on them. Twice.
That happened at the start of the 2019-20 academic year to a family at the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium and Keweenaw.
“The police officer that gave us a heads up wasn’t sure if those kids got any sleep that night or what they had witnessed, but they made it clear it wasn’t a good situation,” said Darren Kinnunen, social worker at CLK Schools. “I can only imagine what was going through their mind as they sat on the bus, walked into the school and tried to act like everything was ok. On the first day of school no less.”
No one knows what would have happened had Kinnunen not gotten a heads up for this situation and others like it that take place throughout the year. However, they know that by having a heads up they can take action and make sure students there are people there for them.
“We never bring up the specific details of what happened, because frankly we don’t know a lot about the situation, and we don’t need to,” said Kinnunen. “Instead, we make an extra effort to be there in case they want to talk about any concerns they may be carrying about the situation. We want to make it so school is a safe place or a place they could think about something else.”
Crucial to Partner with All Local Police
It isn’t just one agency the school is in touch with. They will hear from all local police where their students live.
“I am proud we have this program,” Kinnunen said. “I encourage all schools and law enforcement agencies to work together like this and keep children at the highest priority. Some of the investigations can take days or weeks, but if we’re in the loop we can add to the safety level of a child. We get a chance to make sure each child that goes to school is safe and is not a victim of neglect or abuse. The reality is the kids need this support.”
While the support is there, Kinnunen wants to make it clear they don’t know the details of the cases. Instead, the calls are a courtesy that something has happened and extra attention may be needed.
“It’s a fine line with confidentiality, but we’re trying to work together as a community to be supportive for our community’s children,” he said. “I’m bummed out we didn’t start this cooperation with law enforcement earlier. There are countless opportunities to help kids.”
He compares it to other services the school offers. If shoes are needed, they find shoes for the student. If the student doesn’t have food, they find food. If they can’t make it to a doctor or dentist appointment, they’ll do everything they can to help. When trauma hits home, the same level of help can be provided.
“It’s supporting families and children, and you ultimately can’t argue against that,” Kinnunen said. “If we can disrupt cycles and support families of children, perhaps we can end that cycle of trauma.”
Capture a Kid’s Heart, You Capture Their Mind
While the program isn’t directly related to the training the schools have gone through with the Flippen Groups’ Capturing Kids’ Hearts, it’s quite complementary.
“This training teaches you that it’s all about establishing relationships with kids,” Kinnunen said. “The very first Post It note I wrote to myself during my first day of training said ‘Life is About Relationships.’ That’s what this is all about. We have opportunities every day to interact with some of the greatest people we’ll ever meet and when you’re more aware of what they may be going through you can make sure to connect that much better.”
According to Kinnunen, that theory has been even more important as we continue to navigate through the global pandemic.
“There are kids that have seen trauma and a tough life during this time,” he said. “Our kids need us teachers at our best more now than ever before. We just don’t know what we’re getting, but I know this training is the kind of thing that will help our area teachers continue to be better prepared for whatever they’re about to face.”
As for the students who were still up at 4 a.m. when the police arrived before the first day of school last year? They made it through the year incident free.
“I made it my personal duty, especially those first few days and weeks, to check in with those students more than usual. Just saying hi. Making sure they know I’m there,” Kinnunen said. “It certainly changed what their day looked like. They knew if they needed me, I was right there for them. That’s why we do these things to get ready. Our focus is to capture the hearts of all kids.”