By Tammy Segulin February 27, 2013 9:39 am
We always say, “We never thought it would happen here.” Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. When this kind of violence came to my community, and my school, we all said the same thing. How could anyone ever think something like this would happen to them?
I am a math teacher at Chardon High School, and I’m also the president of the Chardon Education Association. One year ago this week, a teenager walked into our cafeteria with a pistol and opened fire, killing three students and wounding three more.
It doesn’t feel like it has been a year; the trauma still feels fresh for many of our teachers and students, but we’re all moving forward as a community. We’re all trying to answer the question: Now that it has happened here, how do we respond?
It hasn’t been an easy process. A lot of the immediate response to the shooting was a call for metal detectors at every door, and bars on the windows. But our community did not want that; we knew these were not saviors for these problems. We asked ourselves what else could be done to help us thrive, and heal, without making our schools feel like prisons.
Our staff has also strongly rejected proposals to arm educators. As a district, we have decided that that isn’t the solution. Even if some of our educators have the necessary licenses and permits, they will not be carrying weapons at school. Schools should be a safe space where everyone is welcome, and our students shouldn’t be afraid. This decision was a poignant message from our educators about how we heal.
We’re not alone. A recent poll by the National Education Association showed that educators support stronger gun laws to prevent gun violence and keep children safe, and 7 out of 10 opposed proposals to train educators to use firearms and carry them in schools.
Over this past year, we have come up with a priority list of what we want to have happen as a school. There have been immediate changes that had to happen, from offering the services of grief counselors to updating school IDs and security measures. Sadly, so much of these types of changes come down to money, or lack thereof.
The harder changes, though, have been emotional. Incidents like this have a way of grabbing on to other traumas in our lives, even in our childhoods, and bringing them to the surface. There are teachers who would normally stay at school to work late hours, and instead they finish that work at home, because the school doesn’t feel the same anymore. There are some students who won’t be coming to school on the anniversary of the shooting. Instead they will be with their families, or families of the victims.
In the face of all this heartache and loss, though, we have also seen so much strength. We surveyed students and asked them where they wanted to be on the anniversary of the shooting, and the majority said they wanted to be at school. They didn’t want class as normal, so we formed a committee, gathered student input, and we all crafted a plan for facing this day together.
After watching a remembrance video created by a student in the morning, we will all split up into groups and spend the rest of the day working on service projects. Our students will be engaging with the community in positive, productive, healing ways. In the afternoon, we’ll walk together, as a school, to our town square.
On the first day that students were able to return to school after the shooting, they rallied themselves through social media and met at the square so that they could come to school as one. Making that walk again as a school is symbolic of us move forward together.
We, as a culture, need to walk forward together as well. As lawmakers consider school safety issues this week in Congressional hearings, they should learn from our experiences, and the experiences of other schools that have suffered these tragedies.
A range of issues must be addressed in order to ensure that schools are safe places to learn. We need expanded programs and training for students and educators, to help them spot potential mental health needs, bullying or high-risk behaviors. We need increased access to mental health services, and upgraded, safe school facilities. And we need meaningful legislative action to help decrease gun violence.
We never thought this would happen in Chardon, but we are going to make sure that what we’ve gone through this last year has not been in vain.
Tammy Segulin is a math teacher at Chardon High School and the president of the Chardon Education Association.