REMS grant dollars boost communication, school safety

Click here for the district’s Crisis Response Protocol.
Click here for information directed to parents about SchoolMessenger.

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

A second round of federal grant money is helping The Ann Arbor Public Schools stay on top of emergency responses and better communicate with parents.

Ann Arbor is in its second grant cycle using dollars from the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant – known as REMS. The district training staff, hosting emergency drills both districtwide and at each building and implementing a districtwide parent notification system.

Special attention is also being given to hearing impaired and disabled school populations.

The district is updating infectious disease and food defense plans as well as pandemic flu planning in this grant cycle. Ten high school students from Huron and Community are being trained as part of a Teen CERT (Certified Emergency Response Team.) Six Critical Incident Stress Management Teams comprised of staff members are also being trained to offer support to building-level crisis teams.

A 20-member coordinating committee assists Henry Caudle and Ann Anglim in implementing the grant.

“It’s all for safety’s sake,” said Caudle, who serves as the district’s REMS grant project director as well as its crisis response team coordinator. “I think we’re headed in the right direction. And we couldn’t have done this without the grants we’ve gotten.”

Like all federal grants, REMS money must be used specifically for projects approved in the grant application, Caudle said. Projects must be completed by the end of January 2011.

The REMS grant, or similar federal funding in other forms through the U.S. Department of Education, has been in place for about 9 years, Caudle said. Its purpose, he said, is to enhance emergency management planning and training for staff.

During the first grant cycle in 2007-09, the district received $245,000 to enhance the district’s emergency management plan, update district emergency and first-aid items in all school buildings and begin emergency preparedness training. In the second grant, which runs from 2009-11, the district received $315,000 that will allow more equipment and training to take place through next February.

Grant awards are typically based on a district’s size, Caudle explained. Typically a district the size of Ann Arbor with its 16,000-plus students would get a maximum of about $250,000; in this round, Caudle said, “we felt the need to request additional funding, which was approved by the federal government.”

‘We have never had a way at the district level to reach all of our families. This is now one consistent database pulled from Power School.’ – Liz Margolis, director of communications and member of REMS advisory board, talking about the SchoolMessenger communication system

The first grant revamped the district’s emergency policies and protocols, put emergency “to go” bags into each classroom and first aid kits into the hands of nurses at each school. Automated External Defibrillators were purchased for each building, extensive CPR training was offered to all staff and the six CISM response teams with a cross-section of staff received enhanced training to assist building-level crisis response teams.

The current grant cycle continues this process, but adds equipment and additional training, Caudle added. Nurses in the Ann Arbor district are developing guidelines and protocols for handling emergencies on school grounds. Also, emergency “quick reference” flip charts published in English will be translated into the five main foreign languages spoken it the district: Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Spanish; the grant allows for translation services to accomplish this.

A visible project funded by the current grant will be a communitywide mock disaster drill involving other emergency agencies, as well as 35 individual simulated crisis drills at school buildings. According to Director of Communications Liz Margolis that event will likely take place in the fall.

Another large element of the current REMS grant is the purchase and implementation of the SchoolMessenger emergency communications system.

SchoolMessenger allows the district or individual schools to send out simultaneous messages to parents via e-mail or voice mail and, eventually, text. The system will improve the district’s ability to communicate during emergencies and provide other information, as well as assist with attendance at secondary schools. According to school officials, the system is capable of sending a message to all district families in less than 15 minutes.

“We have never had a way at the district level to reach all of our families,” Margolis, who also serves as a member of the REMS advisory committee overseeing the grant. “This is now one consistent database pulled from Power School.”

The system is being used now in a limited capacity. Parents have been asked to update their contact information through Power School database so that e-mails and phone numbers are up to date. Margolis said the district would reserve calls to parent for reminders about student conferences, curriculum nights and other school wide events; other information will likely be sent out via e-mail.

Margolis said the district looked at about six systems before selecting SchoolMessenger. It costs about $1.90 per student per school year for an unlimited number of messages, she said. Both calling and e-mailing of messages should be up and running in March.

She said the district will consider adding text messaging as an option in the fall, as well as allowing school PTOs access to the system for their communication to parents.

SchoolMessenger will also be used to help enhance communication with hearing-impaired students and staff and additional equipment will be purchased with the REMS grant to better evacuate students with disabilities in the case of an emergency, Caudle said. The purchase could include evacuation chairs or other devices.

Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090 or within the district at ext. 51228.

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