Applying Systems Thinking to Elements of a Safe and Healthy School

There are numerous organizations and corporations across the United States involved in the school safety conversation—all working on pieces of the puzzle. From the legislative advocacy to security technology, none of these efforts have “cracked the code” to understanding what makes a school safe, healthy, and resilient.

Two faculty members associated with the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools think it’s time for a more holistic approach. On Tuesday, May 12, Christopher C. Morphew, dean of the School of Education, and Professor Jonathan Links, a medical physicist who is also the university’s vice provost and chief risk and compliance officer, presented “Applying Systems Thinking to Understand the Essential Elements of a Safe and Healthy School.”

Taking off from the perspective that a school is, in the words of Links, “a complex, dynamic, interactive whole,” the talk introduced SchoolWell, a CSHS research project that uses computational modeling to create a complete picture of the factors that influence a school’s ability to combat violent events and maintain a safe and healthy learning environment.

The concept is based on the Composite of Post-Event Well-being (COPEWELL) model developed by Links and a team at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which evaluates the disaster preparedness of all 3,142 U.S. counties. SchoolWell translates this systems model into a conceptual framework for assessing what makes a school safe and healthy.

The talk, delivered online as part of the university’s Hopkins at Home lecture series, concluded with discussion of the urgency of holistic strategies such as SchoolWell as schools plan for post-COVID-19 transition and recovery.