As School Threats and Acts of Violence Dramatically Rise, Students Have Had Enough and Demand Change
Across the country, adults are struggling to manage their emotions — on airplanes, in grocery stores, even at schools and school board meetings. Violent crime in many cities is on the rise. 2020 WAS the deadliest ever for gun violence in America, and 2021 has far surpassed it. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly increased trauma, isolation, stress, anxiety, and economic disparity worldwide: all events that can trigger violence.
These stressors impact children as well. Not only have students been exposed to increased trauma, but many who relied on school mental health resources pre-pandemic were unable to access them during school closures. This is causing a troublesome environment for students and teachers who have now returned to school.
We should all be worried. Given the fallout we’ve seen from this global pandemic, this isn’t necessarily surprising. Compounding the issue, we have seen the start of the 2021 school year wrought with threats of violence across social media and across the entire U.S. We can’t just sit back and wait for the worst to happen. This is exactly the thinking for a growing number of students across the United States who have decided to take the issue on themselves. Here are just a few examples:
- Dozens of Milwaukee High School of the Arts students walked out of school Tuesday morning, Nov. 9, to protest what they call a lack of safety protocols. Students at the protest claimed their school is not a safe place to be, citing threats of violence and fights. They want school officials to respond to their concerns over violence at school.
- In Michigan, More than 100 Holt High School students walked out of school on Nov. 3, to protest school officials’ response to recent safety issues, including an incident in which a student brought a loaded handgun to the school. Reasons for the protest also included a lack of communication between staff and to students about safety issues and inadequate efforts to combat bullying.
- In Massachusetts, students and parents were out Nov. 19th protesting Wakefield Memorial High School's handling of what they describe as sexual harassment. They said not enough is being done to protect the victims and other students.
Students are taking a stand because they aren't seeing any significant changes in their schools. These kids just want to get back to some form of normal. Their lives have been upended in countless ways, and now many of our school systems are failing them on safety - all at a time when they need their school community the most. In many cases, schools aren't even telling parents when their child has been involved in an act of violence.
So what can be done? How can we come together to help these kids feel and remain safe in schools?
Implement or Expand Mental Health Support in Schools
While many districts are investing federal COVID emergency relief funding in mental health services, it is important to understand that mental health support doesn’t have to come just from trained professionals. It can be embedded in a school’s culture. Parents, teachers, and staff can be shown how to leverage apps like Headspace, BetterHelp or Shine, to support their students’ mental health and their own. Daily wellness checks from teachers or counselors can help students make meaningful connections with others, and creating safe spaces for students when they need to talk or share a concern can make them feel like important and valued members of the school community. EdWeek found that students who were involved in K-12 school shootings had a history of rejection, often being victims of bullying or parental neglect. Allowing students to share, feel listened to, and resolve problems at school improves their mental health.
Listen to and Learn From Families
It can be intimidating for schools to give families a platform for regularly sharing their ideas, opinions, and concerns. When parents have a systematic, routine, and simple way to share concerns about their child’s emotional or mental state, it gives schools time for intervention before a situation becomes a safety risk.
Lean on Your Community
Using the power of community and partnerships is an effective tool for decreasing student violence. This was the case in Chicago schools that implemented a system called Safe Passage, which places trusted adults along pedestrian routes to school. It was also evident in schools across the country that have used a program called Watch D.O.G.S to bring dads onto campuses. Students can also lean on one another for support during this difficult time. Implementing peer support groups or structured peer support systems may help strengthen students’ mental health and help them feel positive connections at school.
Consider Training and Technology Implementation for Mitigation
Training and technology can be great allies in the battle for community safety and there are a multitude of options available for schools and organizations to choose from. Here are some things to consider when shopping for safety training and technology.
- Consider violence prevention and response training for employees.
- Consider conducting vulnerability assessments specific to your organization.
- Consider technology that allows for anonymous reporting of suspicious activity.
- Consider critical incident response technology (panic buttons) in order to expedite life-saving response - should violence strike.
The last two years have had a profound effect on all of us, much of which was far from positive. We must remember how we feel and be conscious that our children also feel these impacts. Perhaps even more so. Just like adults, children express their emotions in a wide variety of ways. Assuredly, some will respond with violence. As protectors, we must be vigilant in recognizing and responding to these challenges, and we must do it today.
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