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Safety and Security Takes a Major Place in the AASA Conference’s Exhibit Hall in San Diego

Exhibit hall aerial view

The number of students thinking about harming themselves or having suicidal thoughts was 52,491 out of 146,000 items uncovered by Gaggle during 2018-19 school year, according to company flyer distributed in the AASA national conference’s exhibit hall.

It’s not just adolescents that are at risk. Gaggle also identified 231 elementary-age children who had used alcohol and drugs.

One of more than a dozen vendors in the hall dealing with safety and security issues this year, Gaggle has carved out a name for itself with products for parents and educators that might prevent tragedy, either a student suicide or a student harming others. At a time when rates of anxiety, depression and suicide are increasing, districts are searching for ways to intervene.

Gaggle’s software does content analysis of content and images in the student’s school-issued account. The machine learning blocks pornography and flags content that may indicate a student is thinking about harming themselves or hurting others.

“A student might send a message that ‘Our basketball team killed it last night,” said Heather Durac, vice president of operations at Gaggle in Bloomington, Ill. Machine learning would pick up on the word “killing.” An expert at Gaggle then reviews the content and decides which items need a rapid response. The building-level team reviews all flagged messages because they know the students best.  

“So much of the focus on safety is on outside intruders,” said Durkac, “More emphasis could be put on being proactive.”

Preparing for school emergency have grown the safety industry to include communications technology, alarm systems, active shooting training and emergency preparedness. The technology has solved some problems but created others.

“Panic buttons of some companies can cause panic in an active shooter situation,” said Rusty Russell, vice president of SafeDefend, another exhibit hall firm. Technology can be too complicated for people to use properly in an emergency. His company’s alarm button works by simply pressing a button.” The teacher’s thumbprint will be recognized.

The companies with a presence in the exhibit hall included many devoted to student emotional health.

Online counseling for students can provide additional support for students who feel depressed, anxious or angry. E-Therapy, First Stop Health and Dialcare Mental Wellness and eLUMA Online Therapy were among those exhibiting. The niche serves districts in rural locations where health providers are scarce.

“We will serve you if you have just one student,” said Annemarie Iascone, business development manager for E-Therapy. “We will serve you if you have just one student.”

Communities In Schools, a dropout prevention program, has four new interactive courses, online tools and in-person learning. Their goal is to enhance student supports in their schools. 

(Liz Griffin is senior reporter of Conference Daily Online and managing editor of School Administrator.)

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