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ENOUGH!

June 6, 2022

Today, D-Day and suffering in US schools

This has been a very difficult couple of weeks for me and I know for many others. On reflection, my sadness and anger started with the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999 when 12 students and one teacher were killed by two 12th grade students. On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 students. On December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School a 20 year old killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old and six adult staff members. On February 14, 2018, a 19 year-old opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida murdering 17 people and injuring 17 others. The perpetrator pleaded guilty and is still awaiting sentencing.

Since January 1, 2022 there have been 27 shootings, with injuries or deaths, that have taken place in schools across the United States. We all know that school shootings have been going on for decades. The first one that I found documented took place in 1840 when a student entered a classroom on the campus of the University of Virginia and shot his professor who died three days later.

The latest heart wrenching event on May 24, 2022 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas 19 fourth graders and their two teachers were gunned down in their classroom by an 18 year old. I say ENOUGH!

These innocent young faces below each have a story and for their stories to end abruptly and unnecessarily is very sad. And the two teachers smiling and such happy faces who guided and taught these young children – to have their teaching careers cut short by a gunman is totally unfair.

Precious victims from Robb Elementary School

I’m sure you’ve heard the horrific stories connected to this event which include the police not entering the classroom for over an hour and the gunman shooting his grandmother before going to the school and on and on. As I process the event I can’t help but feel and think so many emotions. From what I’ve read…

it’s OK to feel scared and sad AND also feel joy and hope.

I choose to imagine the bright stories. Read about these children and teachers. Ten year old Alithia Ramirez loved to draw and wanted to be an artist. She recently submitted a drawing to the “Doodle for Google” contest.

TAKING ACTION

I wanted to volunteer in the school district where I live and taught for 30 years but due to the pandemic, I was unable to be in the schools. So, I decided in January to start substituting, after the local district increased the substitute daily pay which they’ve based on experience and formal education. They’re using federal Covid relief funds and it has increased the number of substitutes exponentially. The idea is working! I was called to sub for elementary art two days after the shooting in Uvalde and I admit I hesitated to say ‘yes’. I took out the sub manual and didn’t read anything about what to do in a similar situation. I asked in the office when I arrived at the school for the protocol. Little information was provided and I felt scared that if there was a similar emergency, I would not be able to act on anything but my gut of what to do. My message to teachers and substitutes is…

Review the school policy and protocols with your colleagues and administrator. Do what you can to arm yourself with the knowledge and options so you can be as prepared as possible. Do it for yourself and for your students safety!

At the end of my day substituting for art, I sent an email to the Assistant Superintendent who oversees the substitute program. Ten days later, I’m still waiting a reply. I will circle back to the administrator since I understand how busy school personnel are at every level.

MY THOUGHTS ON GUNS

I want you to know that I’m not opposed to individuals owning guns but I think owning a gun for the ‘right’ reason is important and perfectly fine. Here’s an example of what I mean. Last week in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, Representative Ken Buck from Colorado dismissed a proposal to regulate AR-style rifles. He said: “An AR-15 is a gun of choice for killing raccoons before they get to our chickens.” I understand that the farmers and ranchers in Colorado need to protect their chickens however, there are other guns that can be used for this purpose. Owning an AR-15 for this reason is simply not ‘right’.

An example of what I believe is a right reason. I grew up in a hunting family. My father was a rabbit and deer hunter so there were always guns in our home, locked in a gun cabinet when not in use. The animals my dad shot helped put meals on our supper table and sustain our family of six. My brothers were taught to hunt and so were my sister and I. Safety was a priority and I can hear my father’s voice emphatically saying: “never, ever point a gun at a human being”. You see, my father proudly served in the Army in WWII, 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division (known as the Big Red One). He was trained in desert fighting and sailed on the Queen Mary to England to prepare for the invasion of Africa. On the first day, Corporal Nestor’s first day in battle anywhere, he was awarded the Silver Star medal and promoted to Sergeant. He fought against General Rommel’s German troops in Northern Africa and fought across Sicily. On June 6, 1944, his division was part of the second hour landing on Omaha Beach at Normandy. He continued the fight across France, Belgium, and crossed the Rhine River into Germany including The Battle of the Bulge. For 34 months he served as a Forward Observer until he was seriously wounded. He put himself in extreme danger in order to save a battalion of fellow First Infantry soldiers guarding an air base. His injury on the battlefield sent him home and for this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. His exemplary valor, bravery, and leadership also earned him a Silver Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, a Bronze Star with Four Oak Leaf Clusters, two Purple Hearts, The French Croix de Guerre, a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant, as well as numerous other commendations. My dad never talked about the difficult parts of the war but he told stories about the many friendships and shared his mementos. He was proud to have served and to be an American and humbly served our country for the many freedoms we have. After the war he put his energy towards his family and community and made a lasting positive impact. In my opinion, all his life he used guns and owned guns for the right reasons.

TEACHERS AND GUNS

We all know that teaching is a challenging and also a rewarding career. The stresses that exist today due to the pandemic and another massive school shooting have teachers asking the hard questions. They’re struggling to find time to take care of themselves. We all know self-care is critical. The shortage of teachers has been ongoing for several years, especially in certain subject areas, more so in school districts with low- income households and in rural areas. According to Education Week typically about 8% leave every year. Some states are discussing arming teachers with guns to stop school shootings. In my opinion that is a bad idea for many reasons. First of all, we have more guns in America than people. Has this kept individuals and schools safer? According to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy website it looks like 120 hours of training is required to be eligible to be a Maine State Police officer. I don’t see where any state is suggesting 120 hours for teacher training however, expecting teachers to train to respond to a shooter in school is unreasonable. Here are other reasons I believe this is an unfair expectation:

  • In a moment of duress and confusion when an intruder enters a classroom, there is no way to predict how a teacher may respond.
  • This increases the chances of their own students being shot.
  • The liability for the school district will be near to impossible.
  • Do we really want students to be watching this type of scenario played out?
  • Teachers are hired to teach not to be law enforcement and security personnel. Their jobs are enormous already.

WHAT CAN SCHOOLS DO?

When I was in elementary school (a hundred years ago) we practiced for fire drills and we also had ‘duck and cover drills’ preparing us for an atomic bomb. We silently filed into the hall, kneeling up against the wall with our arms crossed over our heads without moving, until the teacher said it was OK to release our position. Yes, we were scared but we practiced so we’d be prepared, just in case. If drills are done with the best interest of the children to help alleviate the fears, practicing can contribute to the effectiveness and ease their fears. I was on a zoom call last week with several Maine teachers who shared that there are problems with the various situations in school buildings. Some examples include: outside doors don’t lock without a certain key, turning off lights in classrooms without windows makes it very difficult to get 20 students to the designated safe space in the classroom, and passing students out windows can be very risky when you don’t know where the shooter is located.

WHAT CAN OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS DO TO MITIGATE THIS DREADFUL PROBLEM?

MCSTOYA is an organization whose members are Maine county and state teachers of the year. A week ago members were invited to discuss ideas for addressing the complex issues related to school safety. We landed on two ideas and met with an aide of Senator Collins last Friday to share our requests.

Request #1: Raise the age of people purchasing an AR-15 to 21

  • WHY? Part of the answer lies within understanding the effects of bullets from an AR-15. This information is taken from the The Atlantic: What I Saw Treating the Victims from Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns written by Heather Sher. Bullets travel at a higher velocity from an AR-15 and are far more lethal than routine bullets fired from a handgun. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. The bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than-and imparting more than three times the energy of a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun. When these guns are outfitted with a magazine with 50 rounds it allows many more lethal bullets to be delivered quickly without reloading.
  • The second part of the answer lies within understanding the brains of a young person. Many educators know this information. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center the rational part of a teens brain isn’t fully developed until 25 or so. An adult brain and teen brain work differently. Adult brains think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part. In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing – and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

Request #2: Funding for school violence prevention and intervention programs

  • WHY? It makes perfect sense that if we could identify the struggling students and provide them the support they need to begin to articulate their needs and process their stresses school personnel would be assisting to address some of the problems. In many schools there is one social worker or guidance counselor responsible for hundreds of students. This makes it impossible for the existing staff to service students.

WHAT CAN YOU and THE PUBLIC DO?

Consider your options. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or be in fear of losing your gun if stricter laws are put in place to keep schools safe. Have conversations with your neighbors and community members. Often they do not know what goes on in schools. You’re the expert, share information, enlighten them.

Contact your legislator to share your opinions and beliefs. Vote every time you have the opportunity. Below is a sample to help start a phone conversation. And, you will find the phone numbers for Senator King and Collins’ offices.

Hi, my name is ……………

I am a constituent from (name of town) and an educator in Maine.

I am calling about (state the issue) 

Please consider supporting legislation that will……………. Or I am concerned about (issue) and would like this looked into. 

Thank you for hearing my concerns.

Phone numbers:

Senator Angus King Washington Office:  Phone: (202) 224-5344

Senator Susan Collins: Washington Office:  (202) 224-2523

                                      Caribou Office:  (207) 493-7873

                                       Lewiston Office:  (207) 784-6969

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

This is a book that you might find helpful at this point in your career (no matter how long you’ve been teaching) and the school year (with all that has been going on during the last 27 months.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and sister Amelia Nagoski DMA 

Emily’s Masters’ degree is in counseling and Amelia’s is in choral conducting; one day they realized they both got graduate degrees in how to listen and feel feelings.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to education. Please don’t hesitate to post a comment below in this blog post and/or reach out to me if you have questions/comments at meartsed@gmail.com.

2 comments

  1. Loved this post! 💞

    Sent from my iPhone

    >


  2. Thanks Cecilia!
    ~Argy



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