December 14, 2012, I remember crying in my 7th grade classroom after hearing the news of twenty innocent children murdered by a madman at Sandy Hook Elementary. The next day my students wrote letters as a symbol of support to survivors. I didn't know what else to do.
In the time since I have felt more hopeless resignation. This year there have been 30 school shootings in the spring semester alone, meaning that we average about one a week. How could we let this happen as a country? We should be disgusted with ourselves. But disgust is not enough, we must take ownership of this problem. We have a moral obligation to ensure a safe and welcoming learning environment to our children.
As a teacher of nearly ten years, a mother, and an American citizen, I fear for the safety and lives of our children. This issue is complicated and highlights the difficulties of having a democracy. There are no easy fixes. Any proposed ideas tend to entrench people in their ideologies, while accomplishing nothing. However, that is not a reason to give up. We cannot become paralyzed by the debate. Doing nothing means blood on our hands. We as a community must stand up and fight to protect our children.
What follows are some ideas that may be helpful in guiding our discourse. These are Galveston specific, but could be useful in any community. Finally, I encourage everyone to get involved. Please attend the next GISD school safety meeting on August 7th at 6:30 pm at Ball High School and ask questions, give your opinions, and show your support.
Building security and screening
We need enough security officers on duty as school begins. GISD will do this for the 2018-2019 school year. The district will station most of them at Ball High with some at the middle schools. Ball will use vestibules in the main entryways of the schools to control access to the building. Visitors will be screened and have to present I.D.s before entry. However these vestibules may have some limitations. They will only operate during school hours after students have arrived for the day (school officials expressed concern over delays screening every student before entry).
Owning Mental Health
Mental health is a real problem. Schools that focus solely on test scores and academics miss the bigger picture. Schools should produce students who are good citizens, know how to care for themselves and for others. At Austin Middle School there is one counselor for approximately 550 students. This person must manage a multitude of administrative duties on top of tending to the social and emotional needs of students. There should be another counselor to help split up the work to effectively service and help those in need. At Ball high, there is approximately one counselor to 400 students. Again, you tell me, is that enough?
But improving the ratio of counselors to students isn’t enough. We should teach students to manage their mental health in a more systematic way. Perhaps requiring a mental wellbeing class before or during the school year in order to graduate. It would require a collaborative effort by teachers, school psychologists, parents and counselors. It could take on healthy topics for young minds like happiness humility, compassion towards others and themselves, anti-bullying, love and the importance of friends, non-judgement, taking nature walks, meditating, group counseling, and so on. Students need to open up their feelings to look inside and find themselves. They have to be aware of their emotions and cope with them, but most importantly, they need to know they are not alone. Everyone suffers and feels pain during their lives. But, they would be given the tools and the opportunity to talk about them or just give them a sense of support in this class.
On this front GISD is incorporating a new program this Fall called Social-Emotional Learning Project (SEL) which focuses on goals, managing emotions, maintaining positive relationships and making responsible decisions. This is a good start; however, as a teacher I am skeptical. Teachers are often overwhelmed with class sizes, incorporating new technologies and teaching strategies, and growing administrative duties, adding more on their plate may be too much to ask.
Money is the lynchpin for many of these issues: without it, we can’t hire more counselors, purchase metal detectors, or fund mental health classes. Education funding is broken in Texas, and we have to start electing officials who are willing to make the tough decisions.
Without access to guns school shootings don’t happen. Few people are calling for a ban on guns, most reformers just want the current laws enforced and more common sense laws. Do we need semi-automatic weapons designed to kill humans? Is it a sin to ask this question? Can we mandate gun owners keep them locked an inaccessible to kids? Believe me, I do see the importance of having guns.
Remember, this fight is not over until we see progress. Please don't become paralyzed by it all and do something, talk about it, attend a meeting, write to a politician, or offer your service to help in a way you see fit. We are in this together. I do not want to fail our children. And this is what that is about, helping them. It has always been about that.