Monday, January 7, 2013

My Experience with School Violence

It has taken me a little while to come to grips with the tragedy at Newtown. It has brought me back to my childhood in a way that I wish had never happened. In March of 1998 I was a 10th grade student at Westside School District located just outside of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Around 11:40am one of the janitors came into my high school biology class and said "there has been a shooting at the middle school." The teacher and janitor locked the doors, but the students in my class and I immediately ran to the window. This particular classroom's windows faced the middle school only a few hundred yards away. On the next hill my entire class saw the carnage of wounded bodies, dead students and the storm of first responders trying to make order in the horrific scene. I was 16 years old. Two students of the middle school, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, 13 and 11 years old respectively, shot and killed 4 students and my favorite teacher, Shannon Wright. Andrew Golden had pulled the fire alarm while Mitchell Johnson started firing on students and teachers as they exited the building. After Andrew returned to the position both students began firing killing their classmates.

My mother was the curriculum coordinator for the district and luckily her office was on the high school campus where I was in class. She and other district administrators were busy trying to make sense of the events. My mother had a meeting with the middle school principal that was scheduled for 11:30 in which she was late, thank God. When she later told me that she would have been directly in harms way, I cried. My mother survived a brain tumor and surgery only 3 years prior. It seems silly that she lived through a tragic event only to die from a middle schooler's bullet during a routine meeting at her workplace.

The year after the shooting the middle school principal resigned and my mother took the job. She was the principal that managed the dammage in the wake of the violence. She setup support groups, over saw the construction and maintenance of the memorial garden and helped teachers struggle with their post traumatic stresses. It was a trying time for her to rebuild a greif stricken school. My mother is a stellar educator.

Since I have became a middle school teacher myself, I think often of the tragedy at my former school. I constantly urge my fellow teachers to be vigilant of potential threats. Simple things like asking adults "What can I do for you?" or "Have you checked in with the office?" can go a long way. It is time to review your crisis plan and have some practice implementing it.

Experiences like Westside, Columbine, and Newtown are reminders that it can happen anywhere. Please take on the task of being aware of potential threats.