CHEVY CHASE, Maryland – President Bush said Tuesday that character education is an important part of what he called the "mosaic" of efforts to prevent school violence.
"The primary teacher of character is the parent. That is the front line of enabling our society to be a compassionate, decent place," Bush told a group assembled for a school safety summit at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md. He sat at a table with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, local and law enforcement officials.
Noting the emotional swings of loneliness, alienation and youth angst that foment teen anger, Bush said people can't just sit and ponder school violence; instead, they must find ways to reach students before they commit a violent act.
"Rather than be upset, it's best for all of us who are responsible for helping folks not only cope, but to prevent" school violence, he said.
In-school violence has spiked in the past two weeks with three fatal shootings resulting in seven deaths, and a fourth shooting Monday that resulted in no injuries but left teachers, parents and students shaken.
"In some ways, I’m sorry we're having this meeting. ... In other ways, I know how important it is that we're having this meeting. The violence that has been occurring in our schools is incredibly sad, and it troubles a lot of folks, and it troubled me and Laura," Bush said, referring to the first lady.
Bush heard from school safety leaders and local law enforcement officials, who explained some of the methods that have used in trying to prevent school violence. Among the suggestions, Citrus County, Fla., Sheriff Jeffery Dawsy said it may help to put law enforcement officials into elementary schools, not as patrols, but rather to begin building trust relationships with students and to educate about in-school violence and other threats.
Bush turned to Gonzales, and asked who would take care of making sure sheriffs were sharing this type of information.
"We'll make sure that happens," said Gonzales, the nation's top law enforcement official.
During the discussion, one statistic thrown out is that 81 percent of students had some knowledge of an attack plan prior to it happening. Frederick Ellis, who is in charge of security for Fairfax County, Va., schools, said that creates a fearful environment for students who would otherwise be able to prevent violence.
"There needs to be a culture, climate in schools where students feel comfortable talking about it," Ellis said.
Cathy Paine, a school psychologist for the Springfield, Ore., School District, said her system has begun a program where teachers hold sitdowns with students who might be exhibiting signs of planning violence such as a sudden change of clothes or attitude, or verbalized threats.
The new program evolved after an attack there. Unfortunately, she said, prior to that, administrators and teachers had not thought it was a necessary program.
Earlier in the day, Spellings expressed her own remorse for the recent violence.
"We have all had heavy hearts obviously as we've watched the events of the last couple weeks unfold, and our sympathies and prayers go out to the victims and the families and to the communities who are coping with the recent situations," Spellings said. "As all of us that are parents know, it's frightening and you certainly get the weightiness that this can really happen anywhere."
Spellings said that about 50 million students go to class every day in America, and for the most part, they are safe. Yet, it is important for each school district to have a tailor-made plan.
"We educators say this is a teachable moment, [a] time to take stock, reflect, make sure not only we have [the] world's best plan, but every single person who needs to know is aware of what the plan is," Spellings told FOX News before the summit.
The event isn't expected to lead to new policies, but rather raise awareness to existing safety models developed in response to the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, among others. In that massacre, two students in Littleton, Colo., entered their schools packing a heavy arsenal, and killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before shooting themselves. Twenty-four others were injured.
The conference was called last week by Bush after a fatal shooting in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pa., left five girls dead and a sixth fighting for life.
Other recent attacks include:
— Sept. 27: Duane Morrison entered Platte Canyon High School, about 40 miles southwest of Denver, where he took six female students hostage. He released four before police stormed the school. Morrison fatally shot one of the remaining students.
— Sept. 29: Eric Hainstock, 15, shot and killed the principal at his high school in Cazenovia, Wis. Hainstock had been warned by the principal the day before for having tobacco on school grounds.
— Monday, a 13-year-old student who has not been identified by authorities entered Memorial Middle School in Joplin, Mo., carrying an assault rifle. Authorities say he had a "well thought out" plan to kill students, but after he fired one shot into the ceiling, his rifle jammed and he left the building and was later taken into police custody.
"It's a terrible tragedy. We're not supposed to lose our kids at school," said Park County, Colo., Sheriff Fred Wegener, who attended the conference.
The panel featured opening remarks by Laura Bush, and Craig Scott, a survivor of the Columbine shooting. Scott's sister was among those killed in the massacre.
"Acts of school violence are not isolated incidents, which is why adults must do everything they can to reassure children with their own actions," said the first lady, a former school librarian. Laura Bush heads a program called "Helping America's Youth," an initiative that takes a community approach to helping schools.
Scott recalled for the audience about how he hid under a table in the school's library He now speaks to schools on behalf of his late sister, Rachel, encouraging students to choose compassion over violence.
"It's such a high price to have to pay to be able to do this, but it's so worth it," Scott said, choking up in tears. "If we can carry messages that have value and that have substance — that aren't Band-Aid answers — I believe that we'll have impact."
"All this need to say, 'I love you,' comes from your soul," Bush said after Scott gave an impassioned speech about how the tragedy had changed his family's priorities and purpose. Bush said he hopes recent events give people a reason "to take an extra effort to comfort the lonely."
The conference included a panel discussion on how to help communities heal after an incident, like dealing with the immediate and long-term psychological trauma as well as how to prepare for high-stress events like anniversaries.
The White House also distributed a reference list of nationwide federal and local community resources for examples of emergency plans, law enforcement contacts, emergency response training, mentoring programs, coping and research and data.
Kenneth Trump, who tracks U.S. school safety and violence data, said no pattern has emerged to account for the recent school violence.
In the 2005-06 school year, 15 people were killed in school-related shootings, Trump said. That number of school-shooting deaths has ranged from three to 24 in recent years, Trump's records show.
In the period from 1992 to 2002, 462 students and adults died at school by homicide or suicide, according to the latest government figures. Most of those killed were children.
FOX News' Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.