class act: Best practices in action
class act:
Best practices in action
class act:
Best practices in action
Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Safe Schools for All initiative

At the beginning of 2018, the Contra Costa County Office of Education was looking to identify a focus for its next countywide initiative. The COE met with representatives from each of the county’s 18 school districts and found many were looking for support in addressing school violence and student mental health and wellness. In March 2018, the Contra Costa county office decided on a “Safe Schools for All” initiative.

The next step was to survey programs that could help address the critical issues that would create meaningful support countywide and that districts could take ownership of. The county office identified the nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise — recommended to the county by then-State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond of Richmond (now State Superintendent of Public Instruction) — after deciding its Know the Signs programs were the right fit for the county.

Created in the aftermath of the horrific shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in 2012 that left 26 dead, Sandy Hook Promise envisions a country where no child experiences the devastation of school shootings. Its mission is to create a culture engaged in preventing shootings, violence and other harmful acts in schools. “If you teach youth and adults to know the signs of someone who might want to hurt themselves or hurt someone else, then you can potentially prevent violence before it happens,” said Ilana Samuels, California regional manager of Sandy Hook Promise.

The initiative’s two main programs are “Start with Hello,” available for grades K-12, and “Say Something.” The “Start with Hello” program aims to create a welcoming school environment and a community of connectedness among students and staff. This program is about very simple things — such as noticing when someone is often alone and just saying “hello” — that have an incredible impact, Samuels said. The program was evaluated in a case-control test at Los Angeles Unified School District by the University of Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center, which found that program participants had significant improvement in perceptions of school safety. When compared to those that did not attend, participants demonstrated greater willingness and self-efficacy to report warning signs of mental distress and threats, and more positive relationships with trusted adults. Additionally, results showed improvements in attitudes toward school, peer connections and providing a sense of empowerment.

The “Say Something” program teaches students about the signs, signals and threats that they might see, including on social media; how to take those threats seriously; and how to tell a trusted adult. The program is available for grades 6-12. Sandy Hook Promise also makes available an anonymous app, should districts choose to adopt it, through which students can report concerning behavior.

Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing School Violence Act

The California Department of Education has secured $1 million in funding for Project Cal-STOP (Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing School Violence Act). Sandy Hook Promise was selected as a partner to deliver their violence prevention programs direct to schools, and the grant also includes Youth Mental Health First Aid training. For more information about the grant, reach out to; for more information about self-leading the programs “Start with Hello” and “Say Something,” visit or email

The Contra Costa County initiative officially launched in October 2018 with a kick-off event, “Contra Costa County Safe Schools Summit.” Every school district (as well as several charter schools in the county) sent a team to the summit, which also included an early morning session for parents. Nicole Hockley, founding board member of Sandy Hook Promise and mother to one of the children lost during the tragedy, was the keynote presenter at both events. The event’s purpose was to raise awareness and answer questions about the organization and to build excitement around the initiative. “The summit was critical,” said Terry Koehne, chief communications officer for the Contra Costa County Office of Education. “We needed a way to try and pull in every school district in our county and provide them firsthand with an opportunity to see what the impact of these programs could be.”

When a school district expresses interest in the program, representatives from the county office and Sandy Hook Promise will present to relevant stakeholders — often district staff, school boards and the superintendent, Koehne said. The district is required to sign a three-year memorandum of understanding to commit to implementing the program. The majority of districts in the county have signed agreements and are beginning or well on their way to implementing the programs.

“It has been the exceptional communication and relationships that the county office has with all the school districts that has allowed us to get to as far as we are in Contra Costa County,” said Samuels.