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Addressing the Complex Issues of School Safety

February 22, 2013

The teaching profession has been picked apart by the mainstream media during the past few years. Since the economic downturn half a decade ago, critics chose an easy target – public education – to demoralize and vilify.

Many who have taken on the responsibility of preparing our children to be productive citizens in our communities are being assailed. Some who have chosen the most important and challenging of careers in education are struggling to find balance between their initial inspiration and the reality of the demands upon them.RJK teacher Dorrie Lounsbury with her sixth grade students

When tragedy strikes

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a tragedy – such as the one at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – to shine a light on those who serve a greater cause. Many of the heroes in that story were educators who sacrificed their lives to save their students. It should not take such a heinous event for us to realize that there are everyday heroes in our schools today - teachers who give their time, hearts and dedication to educating our children – who go above and beyond their job duties, without spotlights, glory and many times, without a simple thank you. They are the same as the teachers who gave everything to protect their students from a deranged gunman.

Keeping our schools safe

In the wake of the Connecticut event, schools across the nation (and possibly the world) are taking a closer look at their own safety practices. All of them are ensuring that their safety plans are updated and are strictly enforcing the rules already in place, such as wearing identification badges, locking all doors, buzzing in visitors and conducting regular hallway and perimeter patrols. As we sit and wonder why, discussions abound as to what we can do to avoid this type of tragedy and how we can prepare ourselves and our schools.

Candid conversations

At the Robert J. Kaiser Middle School, Dorrie Lounsbury knew her students would have questions about the Newtown tragedy. In her classroom, she has established a culture of trust among her young mentees by creating a safe place for them to share their feelings - a place where students take care of one another, do not say hurtful things, are accepting of their diversity and feel like they are part of a family. The positive climate of her sixth grade class provided students the perfect outlet to discuss the Sandy Hook shooting. During their English language arts lesson, that included watching a segment from President Obama’s speech, the students contemplated the issues of gun control and school safety. Their discussions also focused on how accepting differences among people can lead to less bullying and perhaps, a less violent world.

Advocating for change

After debating their concerns and ideas, the class agreed that this issue was important enough to take to the next level. They wanted to know what their local political representatives were doing to ensure their safety in school. They had questions theyRJK sixth-graders wanted answered and they had some great ideas they wanted to share. The students decided to write letters to New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.

Their correspondence included the following questions:

  • “How can we stop guns from being smuggled across our borders?”
  • “How do we know if someone who owns a gun is really using it for hunting?”
  • “Can we install shatter-proof glass in our school windows to protect us better?”
  • “How do we stop the bad guys and the mentally ill from getting guns?”
  • “How can we limit violence and blood in video games?”
  • “Can there be stricter anti-bullying laws?”
  • “What can we do to make our schools and communities safer?”

Answering the tough questions

Politicians play a major part in answering these questions and in what direction the dialogue will continue. In January, New York lawmakers enacted gun legislation that is now considered one of the toughest in the nation. At the federal level, tougher gun regulations are also being explored. This includes possible funding for school security. Many are still debating the mental health issues tied to these violent events and if resources will be restored and expanded. Some are calling for the manufacturers of violent video games to be held accountable. There are many different points-of-view and opinions about what we as a nation should do.
As with Ms. Lounsbury’s class, children, parents and community members are worried about our future. Although there is no one remedy that will stop the violence, these types of heartfelt discussions need to take place far more often. Perhaps this group of savvy 11-year-olds already discovered an important part of the solution when during the discussions they expressed that by being kind to people, including them in activities and reaching out to someone who is alone not only will make them feel good about themselves, it is the right thing to do.

Thank you...

After receiving the students’ letters, Assemblywoman Gunther scheduled a visit for mid March to personally discuss these issues with Ms. Lounsbury’s class. The students are thrilled that their letters were read and their ideas will be heard by someone who might be able to make a difference.

As for RJK teacher Dorrie Lounsbury and all the members of the Monticello Central School District staff and faculty who dedicate their lives to educate our children as a way of improving our way of life and supporting our democratic nation - - - thank you.

RJK sixth-graders    RJK sixth-graders

Photos: Robert J. Kaiser Middle School sixth-graders in Dorrie Lounsbury's class.

RJK sixth-graders    RJK sixth-graders

Safety in our Schools - more about how the Monticello Central School District addresses the issues of school safety.