Students and staff of STEM School Highlands Ranch were welcomed back from summer break with hundreds of hand-painted wooden stars. Each a foot long, adorned in messages of encouragement and cheerful drawings, the stars had been strategically placed along fences and around school entrances.
“This too shall pass.”
Many of the STEM families were returning after tragedy struck on May 7, when a shooting left student Kendrick Castillo dead and eight others injured. Dina Barnum, a community member who does not have a child at STEM, initiated the star display to help STEM families transition back to school, she said.
School administration reassured its community that in the new school year, there would be more mental health resources and heightened security measures.
“We recognize that returning for the 2019-2020 academic year may bring unique challenges for some,” a July letter sent to families on behalf of STEM administration said. “Please know we are available to provide whatever assistance we can.”
The letter outlined several actions taken to ensure the wellbeing and safety of students and staff. Among those are not installing metal detectors, the letter says, due to knowledge of best practices in schools across the country.
Some of STEM's new measures include:
• An increased presence from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office for the first few weeks of school.
• A full-time school resource officer from the sheriff's office and a full-time private security guard to provide campuswide coverage.
• A standing order for a sheriff's office off-duty deputy to direct traffic in morning and afternoon drive lines.
• The formation of a STEM Safety and Wellness Committee, chaired by a STEM board member and parent, which will review existing procedures and training that have been approved by the sheriff's office and the Douglas County School District Safety and Security Department.
• Support for staff from AllHealth Network — which provides behavioral health care services — and additional training for teachers on supporting students after a traumatic event.
• Mental health professionals working with students throughout the academic year.
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