NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Dr. Maury Nation, an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University, recently received a $5 million grant from the Department of Justice to research the safety and well-being of Nashville’s youth.

He is working with Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Mayor’s office, and the Oasis Center for the project.

Dr. Nation is a leading researcher on preventing violence and bullying among school-aged children.

“This is a complex issue that involves much more than just what happens in a classroom,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 49 percent of students grades 4 through 12 reported being bullied at least once in the past month.

“Having observed violence, having moved, parents who have divorced, the more of these events that young people accumulate, the greater number of problems they have both behaviorally and academically,” Professor Nation said.

Nation collaborates with Dr. Nicole Cobb, the Executive Director of School Counseling for Metro Nashville Public Schools. “If [students are coming] to school hungry, if they’ve witnessed some kind of violence in their home or neighborhood before school, [this] definitely impacts how they’re going to engage in the classroom or with their friends.”

Many of these experiences or traumas can lead to a host of problems for children.

They may struggle academically. They are more likely to be victims of bullying or become bullies themselves. They may be more likely to be disciplined at school, drop out or even end up in the criminal justice system.

Professor Nation says one way to mitigate the negative impacts of what children may experience is to help them develop their so-called social and emotional competencies.

“These are relationship skills, being able to understand one’s own emotions, and relate to other people’s emotions, recognize when other people are upset,” he said. “If young people can develop those skills they are much more likely to be successful and not have problems with bullying.”

Dr. Cobb said Metro Schools Director Shawn Joseph recently made the decision to reduce school counselors’ administrative duties so they focus at least 80 percent of their time directly supporting students.

“In my opinion, teaching our students social skills is just as important as teaching them math and English.”

Both experts had suggestions for what parents can do to support and protect their children.

Dr. Cobb said, “I would encourage parents to really engage their child in conversation about school. Not just about their classes and academics, but how do they feel about their friends? How do they feel about teachers? Do they feel like school is a safe place to be? Do they want to go to school?”

Dr. Nation added, “I don’t know that there’s a better way to make schools safe than to have parents really engaged and knowing what’s happening in their child’s school. One of the greatest things parents can do generally, for their schools, and for their children, is to recognize that they are partners with their school for their child’s education, and that means showing up, knowing teachers, having regular communication with teachers about what’s happening with their child.”Click here for more School Safety Day: Protecting Our Kids stories.