Sibling safety campaigners Allison and Jack Wanichek, left, stand by along with Walla Walla Public Schools spokesman Mark Higgins as they prepare to produce a video spot for a new safety-awareness campaign launched by the district. Andrew Sayers, far right, who works with the district’s after school programs at Walla Walla High School, checks lighting and sound.

It took some searching, but Andrew Sayers found just what was needed on the Walla Walla High School campus on a recent afternoon.

Sayers, who oversees after-school programs at Wa-Hi, was searching for not too much sun and not too much shade conditions to allow for optimal video footage.

Dressed in casual nice and hair in place, siblings Allison and Jack Wanichek stood by, waiting for their spot in front of the camera.

“Fluff your hair,” Jack advised before Allison took her turn on camera. Returning the favor, she fixed his collar as only a big sister can.

Allison, a senior at Walla Walla High School, and Jack, in eighth grade at Garrison Middle School, had been working toward the moment for months, ever since they approached Walla Walla Public Schools officials about creating a campaign to promote school safety.

On this day, along with district spokesman Mark Higgins, the Wanicheks were creating a video message about their plans to raise awareness of the need to be serious about campus security.

The topic resonates with the sister and brother. Both have experienced instances when their peers treated the subject lightly. Or worse, joked about school shootings, Allison and Jack said.

With Allison’s interest in graphic design and Jack’s evolving filmmaking skills, the duo figured they had the motivation and energy to put a marketing-style campaign together that could benefit every Walla Walla student and family.

Their timing was spot on, Higgins said.

Walla Walla school board officials are jumping feet first into safety and security measures and policies for the 2018-2019 year, including launching a “Safety Awareness Campaign.”

Putting security at the forefront has risen for every public school district, Higgins pointed out.

“It really surfaced last year, starting with the school walkouts after the Parkland shooting,” he said, noting that school safety was a talking point for elected officials after the Feb. 14 tragedy that killed 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in Florida.

While Walla Walla Public Schools already has many safety measures in place, “not everyone is aware of that,” Higgins said.

Efforts such as those of the Wanichek kids will help increase the level of awareness. This year, district officials are concentrating on three legs of emergency preparedness — crisis prevention, crisis management and crisis recovery. Much work has been done to invest in safe and engaging schools, Higgins told school board members last week.

Previously each school had an individual approach to emergencies. Now the district’s strategic plan for safety calls for a cohesive standard and protocol across the board, he noted.

Officials decided that information could be included in a back-to-school safety kit that’s been mailed out to families in the district.

The kits contain materials following the federal Department of Homeland Security’s school safety emphasis — “See something, hear something, say something.”

The WWPS motto stresses the importance of students and parents reporting concerns, no matter how insignificant those can seem, to officials, Higgins said.

The district is also planning to present student-produced videos and participate in October’s Safe Schools Week, sponsored by the National School Safety Center.

Added together, it made sense to fold in what the Wanicheks hope to shine a light on. When the students approached the district, Higgins said his first question was simple — “When can we get started?”

Over the summer, Jack and Allison deployed their budding talents for the campaign, and presented samples of their work at the Walla Walla School Board meeting last week.

Adding student voices to the safety campaign is important, Higgins said, noting that among the talking heads across the county, few are students.

The plan is to keep the graphics and video presentation simple and easily memorized, the Wanichek siblings said.

“I want my designs to reach parents and students,” Allison explained. “The importance of not feeling comfortable or something just isn’t sitting right … this campaign helps people not feel bad for reporting.”

Of course, false reporting is still a crime, Higgins added.

“We want to avoid the pranks and malicious calls, or making some kind of malicious claim. This is too serious,” he said.

Jack will be working with students at Southeast Area Technical Skills Center to produce his safety video, and Allison’s poster designs are set to go out for printing. Radio and video spots will be ready soon, and Higgins will be manning the district’s booth at the Walla Walla County Fair and Frontier Days to help spread the message.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

Recommended for you