Westmont assistant principal touts local programs during Sandy Hook Promise rally

Joshua Byers, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
·3 min read

Apr. 1—William Aurandt, assistant principal at Westmont Hilltop High School, didn't expect when he started his educational career that he'd be part of a legislative push for school safety.

But that's what his role was Wednesday — as a panelist on the Sandy Hook Promise Virtual Rally for Student Safety in Pennsylvania.

During his time, he discussed how his district adopted the programming from the group, such as "Start with Hello" and "Say Something," and implemented it throughout the past few years.

"It's an honor to be a part of something that you know is going to keep children safe," Aurandt said.

The Sandy Hook Promise programming was brought to the Westmont safe schools committee four years ago by a parent group, and since then he and high school Principal Lynn Clement have organized student interactions and initiatives to improve learners' experience and safety within the district.

Aurandt now oversees the prevention subcommittee of the safety board and facilitates the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) Promise Club at the high school.

"Our SAVE Promise Club is providing programming that encourages students in need to reach out to another student or to an adult and to create a connection," he said. "We teach the science and verbiage of the Sandy Hook Promise and put these ideas into action in our cafeteria and our common spaces."

Westmont just celebrated its "Start With Hello" event on March 5, which included a number of events focused on inclusiveness and recognizing warning signs of suicide and violence toward others.

Aurandt credited the parents of Westmont for seeing the value in this kind of programming for why it's thrived in the district.

"The Westmont Hilltop School District and community is proud that Mr. Aurandt, along with our students and parents, are being recognized as statewide leaders for their work with SAVE Promise Club and preventative school safety programming," Westmont Superintendent Thomas Mitchell said.

"His invitation to speak at the rally for student safety in Pennsylvania is a great opportunity to share our experiences and grow from the experiences of other school districts."

During the rally, Aurandt was joined by representatives from Sandy Hook Promise and state legislators Rep. Karen Bobak, R-Luzerne, and Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks.

A common theme for the event was the push to pass legislation Bobak has sponsored, House Bill 540, also known as the SAVE Students Act.

That action aims to provide students in sixth through 12th grade in the state the same initiatives that have benefited Westmont.

"Save the Students Act represents an opportunity to prevent violence by giving students and teachers these evidence-based tools so they can use them to help someone who needs it when most in need," Bobak said.

She noted that if passed, her legislation would provide several options for schools to implement this programming.

"Students would be taught to be upstanders in preventing any type of catastrophic event instead of being a bystander," Bobak said.

Santarsiero told the group that he intends to introduce the same type of bill to the state Senate and is looking for another prime sponsor.

For more information about these initiatives, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.