With the Chardon High School shooting in Ohio sparking national concern for student safety, local parents, teachers, and public officials gathered to plan a safer future for Memphis City Schools kids.
The second annual "Assuring Safe Futures for Our Children Conference" was planned well before last week's shooting, but the conference couldn't have occured at more appropriate time.
Nearly 200 people attended the two-day conference, which was intended to help teachers, parents, and members of the community address threats to local children's safety. It took place last week at the Memphis City Schools Frances E. Coe administration building.
"We wanted parents, teachers, and law enforcement officials to come to the conference and leave with tools that they can take back to their own environment so they can know characteristics of gang members and how to spot a bully or someone who is being bullied," said Ronald Pope, director of student engagement for Memphis City Schools. Pope helped organize last week's conference.
In a letter addressed to those who attended the conference, Mayor A C Wharton wrote: "Local governments have perhaps no greater obligation than to ensure the public's safety, and for no one is this obligation more urgent than our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Protecting our children and freeing them from situations of abuse and victimization remains a core priority for everyone in our community, which makes events like today's conference so vital."
Over the duration of the conference, dozens of speakers including Congressman Steve Cohen, Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash, Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong, and local pastor Ricky Floyd discussed problems and solutions relating to safety inside and outside of Memphis schools.
"This year, we wanted to concentrate on cyber-bullying, because that is a big thing right now," Pope said. "Children committing suicide is another thing we focused on. And this year we focused more on the exploitation of minors, particularly in the sex trade, which is something we have noticed picking up."
In addition to their community outreach efforts, Memphis City Schools is working with a number of committees and city offices to make schools safer.
Pope said his office is meeting weekly with the district attorney's office, the Memphis Police Department, the Department of Children's Services, and juvenile court to talk about situations affecting specific children.
"There is also a collaboration with the [federal] Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on our juvenile justice board, which is a group of local people who try to influence policy," Pope said. "We're working with the [Memphis-Shelby] Crime Commission, trying to make sure there is collaboration within the city of Memphis and also out of Washington."
Additionally, Pope works with truancy prevention programs, gang prevention and intervention, pupil services, youth court, and a soon-to-be-developed school-based probation officer program.