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Enough: Let's Act On Student Safety

By Dale Erquiaga May 22, 2018

Like many people these days, I sometimes live on heightened alert. The uncertainty in our world keeps me periodically checking social media, the web and news outlets to make sure the students we serve are safe for another day.

Last week, when I received a text about yet another school shooting, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Not again, was my first thought.

After that, I felt rising anger and the second thought that came to my mind was: ENOUGH!  

Ten innocent lives were lost in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday. This marks the 22nd school shooting this year including the mass casualty incidents in Parkland, Florida and now in Texas. No matter the scale, these incidents have traumatized our nation’s school children.

In recent weeks, I’ve been tasked by Governor Brian Sandoval (R-NV) with leading a statewide school safety task force in my home state of Nevada. Our goal is to study what a state can do to improve student safety on school property and reduce the risks of gun violence. The hope is that our learnings can serve as a model for what other communities and states can do to protect our students.

During our first task force meeting, we heard from young people who are rightly demanding to be part of the conversation and solutions. Some students asked for more secure school buildings and increased safety drills. Others focused on mental health services for troubled kids. Almost all voiced concerns about a social media landscape where online bullying can often go unchecked and quietly escalate into real-world fears.

Kids today face so many pressures. Their sense of identity is often affected by their positive and negative interactions with peers. Their self-worth is tied to their ability to navigate social media. And their sense of safety and well-being in the world is threatened by what’s happening in their schools.

I think what troubled me most in that first meeting was that our young people needed to have concerns about more “drills” and “lock downs” at their schools. Today’s youth are monitoring text alerts, planning escape routes, and debating the need for metal detectors, when they should be allowed to simply enjoy childhood, focus on their studies, and plan for their future.

ENOUGH!

While the students in Parkland have shown us that it’s important to let kids speak up about what they need to feel fully supported among their peers and safe inside schools, we adults have the responsibility to take action.

Increasingly, many are talking about a more holistic approach that considers students’ entire physical and emotional well-being. An approach that is grounded in the belief that it’s not enough to just know each child by their name, but that we must have caring adults who know their stories and proactively respond to their needs.

Too often, we provide social workers and counselors for kids after they experience a traumatic event in their lives or at their school. While this is important—I’m proud to say Communities In Schools staff leapt into precisely this kind of response and recovery mode to support nearby Texas schools last week—it’s not enough. What’s clear, is that students and families need these interventions in their lives now, as preventative measures.

Communities In Schools recently began urging Congress to maintain investment in critical school safety programs currently at risk of being eliminated. We will continue to identify opportunities in Washington, D.C. to advocate for federal policies and full-funding for federal grants  that create safe spaces for students to learn and grow.

On the state level, I’ll be sharing the learnings from the Nevada School Safety Task Force with other organizations to influence state policies around comprehensive school safety reform. 

In our communities, we’ll be strengthening the training and support of our school-based site coordinators who supplement the work of counselors and social workers. Together with our education partners, we will work to ensure every child in America has access to a caring adult who can address basic needs, as well as more complex things like social and emotional supports or trauma-informed care.

Finally, all of us can do one more thing for our own kids or other youth in our lives and communities. We can offer them our care, concern and love. Every day, not just after something tragic.

They too are now living in an uncertain world where they worry about whether they or their friends are safe for another day.

It’s making what should be a time in their lives filled with hope, optimism and joy one that is instead filled with sadness, fear and anger. 

And I say, enough.