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For a Safe School, it Takes the Generations

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Father and son Gary and Aidan McDaniel will be delivering the keynote address to this years NASW annual conference, talking about their efforts to make the Morgan County schools safer and happier places. Photo courtesy of the McDaniels.
Father and son Gary and Aidan McDaniel will be delivering the keynote address to this years NASW annual conference, talking about their efforts to make the Morgan County schools safer and happier places. Photo courtesy of the McDaniels.
April 29, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - One of the state's experts on preventing bullying and making schools safe is teaching members of West Virginia's caring professions how to do it. With him is one secret to his success - his son.

Social worker Gary McDaniel has done a lot to make Morgan County schools safer and happier places. Often these days he talks about it accompanied by his son, Aidan, 16, a sophomore at Berkeley Springs High School. The two McDaniels collaborate on safety efforts at the school.

Gary said that's the point: Students have to be involved, in a democratic way, because it's their school.

"The thing that most secures a school are the people in it," he explained. "The attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of our students, more than anything, create the climate and culture of any school."

Aidan said too often school safety has been treated as something that can be imposed on students by teachers and administrators, which doesn't work.

"The students' problem that the adults had to fix - we didn't think that was accurate, because it's everybody's problem," he said, "and it's a solution we can't do without working with each other."

Gary said involving the students is more than a nice-sounding idea - it has practical implications. For instance, every school has a lot more young people than adults, which means the adults have to rely on the students to even know what is going on, he said.

"When something's going to happen in a school, the people who know about it first are the students," Gary said. "When they know that they're responsible for creating a safe school, students quickly make us aware of things that they believe are a possible threat."

Gary and Aidan McDaniel will be delivering the Wednesday morning keynote at the annual conference of the National Association of Social Workers, West Virginia Chapter. That conference, the largest event of its kind in the country, will be held May 1-3 at the Charleston Civic Center. The keynote is May 1 at 9:30 a.m.

More information is available at www.naswwv.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV