Philip Poekert can’t find the exact words to describe how he feels about the millions of children worldwide who do not feel safe at school.
The story of King Carter, a 6-year-old boy who was fatally shot in a crossfire between gangs in 2016 in Miami-Dade County, motivated Poekert to create change in today’s schools, he said. He hopes to save students from gangs, bullying, drugs and gun violence, he said.
“It’s unsettling to know that there are children in this country that don’t feel like they have a place to be safe,” he said.
Poekert is the co-principal investigator of UF’s anti-violence project, “Enhancing School Safety Officers’ Effectiveness through Online Professional and Job Embedded Coaching,” funded by a $1 million federal grant from the National Institute of Justice.
The project will assist with Miami-Dade’s school safety system, he said. Starting in January, school safety research will be conducted and will continue for the next three years. Miami-Dade school resource officers, who are police officers stationed within schools, will be trained about social-emotional learning, trauma-informed care, cultural competence and restorative problem solving. This will help them understand how trauma affects children and more.
Poekert said students who have been mistreated due to their race, sexuality or beliefs who haven’t had a place to feel protected at school now will.
The principal investigator of the anti-violence project, Dorothy Espelage, said resource officers will be taught supportive, positive mannerisms to use when working with students.
“School resource officers in our schools play a critical role in not only protecting youth, but creating an environment where teachers, students and all school staff feel safe,” she said.