School shootings are pushing many districts and communities to harden their schools’ perimeters. Metal detectors go in, the number of school resource officers increases, and parents invest in bulletproof backpacks. But is this really the answer? Architects committed to safe school design have other ideas.

After she lost a friend in the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, architectural designer Jenine Kotob decided to start building safer schools. “The security industry is growing quickly, and they’re taking advantage of the fears of administrators and parents, selling them things that they’re promising will keep kids safe,” Kotob says in this New York Times article.

Design principles that keep students and staff safer include people inside being able to see outside, tightly controlled access points, and open concepts indoors to maintain transparency. An example is the new Sandy Hook school, where bridges across a garden add to the scenery but also limit entry points.

Alongside the discussion of how to make physical spaces safer, there is another conversation taking place about emotional safety and reducing threats inside the building.

From the NYT article:

“Communities should not limit discussions about school safety to the structure of the building, said Deborah Temkin, a senior program area director specializing in school health and climate at Child Trends, a research organization in Bethesda.

“Often, the threat to safety comes from within, and a student walking the halls every day who wants to commit an act of violence can figure out where the blind spots are, she said.

“‘What we know works is building a community where there is mutual trust,’ she said. ‘Open lines of communication, mechanisms to engage with teachers in multiple ways, making sure at least one adult is connected to every single student in some way. It all has to be integrated.’”

You can learn more about building mutual trust and engaging with students in Ruby Payne’s book Emotional Poverty. In the book, Payne recommends several calming techniques that can be used with students who are experiencing an “emotional meltdown.”