The startling increase of school shootings and school security threats over the last few years is starting to take its toll on student stress levels. Most adults today lived in a time where the worry of somebody coming into school to intentionally commit a violent crime almost never came to mind.
Today, teachers are beginning to notice that many kids come to school with that exact worry on a daily basis. It’s unfortunate that with the heartbreaking news of school shootings comes the increased student stress and anxiety. With K-12 schools being close in proximity to outside dangers such as theft and assault off school grounds, these incidents prompt lockdowns that terrify students and significantly increase their stress levels. With that being said, some children are too young to understand the difference between a lockdown drill and the real thing.
According to the Washington Post, “every school day between Labor Day in September 2017 and Memorial Day in May 2018, a campus in this country went into lockdown because of a shooting or the perceived danger of one. Typically, those stemmed from gunfire around campuses or ominous warnings — often anonymous and seldom legitimate — that someone intended to carry out an attack.” These country-wide lockdowns occurred daily and impacted students of all ages, scaring them to their core. Students have wept and soiled themselves, written farewell messages to family members, and some even created wills to explain what should be done with their bicycles and video games.
A young boy, Ajani Dartiguenave, heard about a school shooting about 20 miles from his K-12 school on the radio during his morning commute to his charter school in Charlotte. He had never experienced or heard gunshots or witnessed any kind of violence in his 12 years of life. Less than 2 weeks later he was sitting in his English class when somebody on the intercom announced that their campus was being locked down. With recently learning of a boy being shot at a nearby school, he immediately thought he would experience the same fate. He quickly took out an index card and wrote the following for his Mom; “I am sorry for anything I have done. I am scared to death. I will miss you. I hope that you are going to be ok with me gone.” It’s truly heartbreaking that with just the announcement of a school lockdown this young boy thought he was going to die.
3 Ways Your K-12 School Can Ease Student Stress
1. Encourage Open Dialogue With Your Students
There are no teacher prep classes that tell you how to talk about gun violence and school shootings with your students. With this being said, it’s very important to connect with your students about their stress levels and keep an eye out for those struggling with anxiety or other mental health concerns. Stacey Hervey, a teacher in the Denver Public School System, wrote about her student’s stress levels when there was a recent threat at a nearby school on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. She explained, “We allowed students to talk about their concerns, and did what we could to make them feel safe. We reminded them that even with the bad in the world, there is still more good.”
2. Conduct School Safety Drills & Lockdowns Only When Necessary
It’s extremely important for faculty and students to know what to do in the event of a school security threat, but conducting too many lockdown drills can cause psychological problems and significantly increased student stress. John Czajkowski, a former teacher and naval officer who is in charge of security for a large school district, uses the following analogy to help others understand the impact of lockdowns. “It’s like an air bag,” he said, "because they save drivers’ lives in car crashes, but the devices might also break noses and crack teeth. His point: Full-scale lockdowns should be employed only when absolutely necessary.” Instead of full lockdowns, some schools have what they call “secure campus” mode, in which teachers can continue with instruction but the classroom and school doors are locked allowing nobody to leave and enter the building. The Washington Post says these experiences are considerably less jarring than a full school lockdown. We’ve outlined helpful tips in our School Safety Drill Kit, designed to help K-12 schools when conducting safety drills and lockdowns.
3. Implement School Security & Reliable School Safety Technology
Students will feel safer knowing there are effective school security measures being taken. Technology such as on-campus surveillance can give administrators the ability to look out for suspicious behaviors and take action immediately if there is danger. Other school safety technology, such as a panic button app, allows teachers the ability to notify staff, 9-1-1, and first responders quickly with just the touch of a button. Some mobile panic buttons provide critical data such as contact information and building floor plans, which speeds up response times in case of a school safety threat. Knowing there are efficient actions being taken can help with reducing student stress.
Using the above tips to ease student stress will help address the growing mental health concerns among young adults and children.