As I reflected on the most recent school shooting, I realized that our high school students are the first generation of students to have consistently known lockdown drills and similar safety measures in our schools. Many of our high school seniors were born in 1999, the year of the Columbine school shooting tragedy. I was a principal at the time and know firsthand the changes Columbine brought to all schools across the country. The biggest change was that, as a parent, I always expected my child to come home from school each day. Columbine changed that expectation. It is true that Columbine was not the first school shooting and, sadly, was not the last, but it has come to symbolize school violence. It brought doubt that my child would walk through the door at the end of the school day. A chilling thought for any parent.
I have had several thoughts after the Parkland, FL tragedy. First, our children are angry about living under this specter of violence and feel that society’s response to these repeated acts of violence has not kept them safe. Yes, these events are hard to prevent entirely, but it seems our society only wrings it hands after each tragedy, making empty promises to reduce the threat of violence. Adults argue back and forth about gun legislation, mental health issues, and who is to blame, but never truly listen to one another or our children. Time goes by and adults move on to the next topic to argue about in the legislative halls of this country. The issue of school safety fades until the next event and the cycle begins anew.
Next, I continue to see mental health issues facing many of our learners, even our youngest students. Again, our society seems to pass these young people from agency to agency with little or no communication between them. A clear and deliberate communication plan could support agencies, including schools, in helping these struggling students. In Florida, it seems that everyone knew about this former student, and yet no one truly knew him.
Westside Community Schools contracts with Children’s Hospital to provide mental health resources and threat assessments (click here to learn more) but, like any school district, Westside could certainly use additional support. It is an area where we continue to improve our communication between agencies working with students who are troubled to ensure we are doing all we can to support them and their mental and emotional well-being.
It is time to listen to our kids who have lived their entire lives under this cloud of violence. Today their voices are being heard. While Westside continues to update its safety procedures and policies and to prepare for any type of emergency (click here to learn more), we need the help of our entire community. Our children are telling us that the time has come for government and school leaders to work together to address this continuing threat the best we can and in reasonable ways to reduce the violence in our schools and provide a safe environment for students and staff.
As educators we need to continue to teach our kids and create cultures of kindness, acceptance and tolerance for ALL students. We must create cultures of safety, encouraging students that if they hear something or see something to tell an adult. We need to build positive relationships across our schools and communities. We need to do this by being role models of kindness, acceptance and tolerance by treating everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Today, it is the voice of our children that I hear loud and clear. They will no longer accept the status quo. It is time to listen.