MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Sidney Lanier High School is one of two in the Montgomery Public Schools system with an in-house social worker. LaToya Patterson serves that role at Lanier, and she said her job is to be a resource for students and parents.
Patterson said, when working with at-risk students, part of her job is to look for and identify signs that something is off.
"We notice isolation, if they're staying to themselves or have the earphones in for too long," Patterson said. "When you get to know your students, you know when their behavior just isn't them."
Patterson said, if necessary, she looks for suicidal and homicidal signs. She said they're similar: isolation, poor school performance, abnormal behavior, but they vary from student to student.
If a child exhibits suicidal behavior, she said she uses resources available to her to work with parents to provide the right counseling and mental health services for that child. However, if a child appears to be a threat to other students, she said disciplinary actions will be taken.
"If we believe a child is a threat to other students, they would like be expelled from school," Patterson said. "But if they just come out and say things like 'I want to kill everyone,' just those strong statements, that's when we call our resource officer."
The Montgomery Police Department works with MPS to provide resource officers who investigate any criminal activities within the school.
"It's an integral part of the process," Sgt. Jarrett Williams said. "We'll use our resources at the police department to investigate the matter fully, to ensure the safety and security of the schools are maintained."
Sgt. Williams said MPS resource officers take the time to get to know, and bond with students. Relationships are one of the key factors, Patterson attributes to the reason she said she has never had to make a call about homicidal behavior at Lanier.
"I have a great staff," Patterson said. "Administrators, teachers, staff, faculty, janitors, everyone plays a part."
Lanier's At-Risk Interventionist, Robert Reed, said preventing violence in schools starts with letting students know you're there for them.
"It's as simple as saying good morning," Reed said. "They may not respond the first few times, but they will after awhile."
Reed said building these relationships is crucial because, in the age of social media, students are the greatest resource for administration to know when something is wrong.
"They will come to me and show me something, tell me if there is an area of the building I need to check out," Reed said. "They'll even screenshot something and show us."
He said he and the rest of administration combat violence in the halls by paying attention, asking questions and being available to students as a resource.
Capitol Heights Middle School also has an in-house social worker. Patterson said every MPS school has access to one if needed.