By Dermot Connolly
Some students at Stagg High School in Palos Hills participated in National Walkout Day on March 14, calling for action to prevent school shootings. But the whole school has actually been doing so for years, through the “Say Something” program.
The “Say Something” program for students in sixth through 12thgrade was created by Sandy Hook Promise, a national non-profit gun violence prevention organization founded by several people whose family members were among the 26 people killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
The program, which Stagg has been involved in since 2015, teaches youth and adults how to identify warning signs and signals, especially in social media, from individuals who may want to hurt themselves or others and how to Say Something to a trusted adult to get them help. The school at 11100 S. Roberts Road was named the Sandy Hook Promise’s 2017 Say Something Week winner, a national award, for Student Spirit, Creativity and Sustainability.
At the District 230 meeting held at Stagg on March 22, faculty members on the Say Something Committee that organizes the program explained how it works. The committee includes Head Dean Mary Pat Carr, Assistant Principal Ian MacLeod, Dean Kristyn Koss, and teachers Erin Wendt and Corky Lyons. Many of them will be representing Stagg at the National Sandy Hook Promise SAVE Summit on April 21 in Raleigh, N.C., where they will receive the award.
The two other high schools in District 230 -- Sandburg in Orland Park and Andrew in Tinley Park -- are also involved in the program, but to a lesser extent.
“Stagg has been “saying something” since 2015. The week in October was designed by the Sandy Hook Promise to empower students to speak to a trusted adult when or if they are concerned about a safety issue at school, with a friend, or in their community,” said Eric Olsen, the Stagg principal.
A student-produced and narrated film explaining Say Something, and what goes on during Say Something Week, was also shown to the board. Students were shown the film in advisory periods that week, when the school was emblazoned with green, the color of the Say Something program. Students received green bracelets and staff wear green shirts as a visible reminder that they will “say something.”
A large banner was also on display, which staff and students alike sign as a pledge that they will “say something.”
Through the Say Something program, each student is assigned a faculty member to whom they can feel comfortable reporting any concerns. In most of the school shooting cases, it has been found that the shooter told someone about their plans.
“We want the students to be advocates for themselves and their community. We stress the difference between snitching and reporting. When you have a safety concern, you’re not telling on them,” said Koss. “You’re looking out for the safety of everyone.”
The school works closely with the Palos Hills Police Department and the North Palos Fire Department on safety programs year-round, but especially during the Say Something week.
“This year, we wanted to reach out to the greater Palos area, and we reached out to Conrady and Palos South junior high schools,” said Carr. Many of those students will eventually attend Stagg.
The T-shirts and bracelets were given to all the board members, but many, including Tony Serratore, were already proudly wears the bracelet.
“It is not just a week. Being recognized by the Sandy Hook Foundation shows that it has been ingrained in the culture of Stagg High School,” said Carr.
“The Say Something program has affected me in a big way,” senior Sabrina Vasquez told the board. “Just knowing that I have signed the pledge to say something gives me great pride. And knowing that I have a trusted member of the administration that I can go to with any concern gives me confidence.”
Junior Maggie Gorman noted that the Say Something program has been part of her entire high school experience.
“I feel like I have grown up with it. My friends are turning to me to ask what to do. It makes the school feel smaller and helps people feel safer,” she said.
“To be recognized as the leading program in the entire country is quite an honor,” said Rick Nogal, the school board president. “Our community has expressed understandable concern, considering what has happened at schools around the country. We have school resource officers at our schools. But this is quite a program to have, in addition to all the safety measures in place.”