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The Conflict Center Uses Hot Spot Mapping to Help Students Feel Safe at School

What is “Hot Spot Mapping?”

  • The Conflict Center was chosen by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pilot this student-led program in one community space.
  • The Conflict Center partnered with  High Tech Early College in Denver during the 2017-18 school year and has been asked to return for the 2018-2019 school year.
  • Students identified physical spaces in and near school where they felt safe and unsafe, as well as and teachers who make them feel secure.
  • The information can be used by students and staff to improve school safety, as well as identify promising practices.

For some high school students, it was a girls’ locker room that was too easy to look into. For others, it was a nearby business, where several shootings had taken place.

Across Colorado, high schoolers are using an innovative pilot program to help them identify places where they feel unsafe in or near their schools, then take action to make them feel more secure.

In 2018, The Conflict Center was chosen among a small group of nonprofits to pilot the “Hot Spot Mapping” program, through funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The Conflict Center implemented the program at High Tech Early College in Denver. Other nonprofits did similar work at nearly a dozen community spaces across Colorado.

During the program, High Tech students focused on where they felt most safe in school, either physical spaces or with teachers or staff, said Taryn Fuchs, communications specialist and social norming program coordinator at The Conflict Center. They also were asked where they felt less safe. The high schoolers were given a map of their school and the surrounding neighborhood and asked to mark specific areas where they felt safe or less safe.

Through individual, peer and group discussion, students discussed “hot spots,” identifying reasons why certain places felt less safe and why certain staff felt safer than others, such as a girls’ bathroom with better privacy or a teacher with an “open door” policy to discuss problems. The results also were aggregated by grade, gender, race and sexual orientation, in an effort to identify whether certain spaces or people were more or less welcoming to different groups within the school.

“It’s been really valuable information,” Fuchs said. “And it starts dialogue for changes at the school.”

Fuchs said the ultimate goal is to use the information to empower students. With “Hot Spot Mapping,” The Conflict Center can help students create shared values, solve conflicts in nonviolent ways, build trusting relationships with adults and improve their school culture.

For example, “Hot Spot Mapping” showed High Tech students felt unsafe walking past a gas station near school, where several incidents of violence had recently occurred. Working with school administration and community members, they could create a plan to make that walk safer, including everything from petitioning the city for a closer bus stop to applying for grants to hire staff to help monitor the daily walk.

“If students are presenting this to school leadership, it will be more likely they will implement something,” she said.

The Conflict Center looks forward to engaging new community spaces through their Hot Spot Mapping Program to foster safer spaces throughout Colorado.

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