Local Educators Seek To Remedy Anxieties In Sandy Hook’s Wake
Posted: January 12, 2013
HARRISONBURG — Despite the low odds of being replicated, last month’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut has shaken many people’s sense of security, local educators say.
Since the horrific events of Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., area schools have received hundreds of concerned calls and emails, police and administrators have been forced to respond to numerous unfounded threats and the community at large has been dealing with an overall heightened sense of awareness about school safety.
As teachers, parents and students try to reclaim the security they felt prior to the events at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary, a group of educators came together Friday to examine how best to do that during a public forum at James Madison University.
“When there’s a high-profile shooting, concerns and anxieties arise from [people] about school safety,” Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner said. “Every school division across the country is having the same conversation that Harrisonburg and Rockingham [are] having about what to do [and] what we already do.”
Added Anne Stewart, professor of graduate psychology at JMU: “Your basic sense of safety and security is challenged and disrupted. Our ability to trust in the predictability of the environment we’re in gets shaken.”
The forum also brought together students and residents to share perspectives and raise questions about rebuilding in the aftermath of the tragedy and what steps can be taken to reduce school violence.
“[My hope] is the next time we really talk about Sandy Hook is at its anniversary date,” Kizner said.
The discussion, held at Rose Library on JMU’s east campus, was part of the university’s Center for Faculty Innovation’s Faculty Flashpoint Series.
Tammy Castle, associate professor of justice studies at JMU, who studies trends in violence and how major incidents affect policy, said that of the 62 mass shootings in the United States since 1982, 12 took place in schools.
“When we look at violence in schools overall, it has been decreasing since the 1990s,” said Castle, who added that school violence peaked in 1993 and has since decreased dramatically.
Several panelists emphasized the need to sweat the small stuff to bring the numbers down even further, like the day-to-day bullying and minor acts of violence that are more frequent in school hallways.
While panelists noted that making changes in infrastructure, such as the addition of secure entrances, was part of the discussion, everyone involved said more focus should be placed on how to transform school culture and create a sense of community.
“It’s about relationships,” said Josh Bacon, director of judicial affairs at James Madison.
Bacon said since the April 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the creation of a behavioral assessment team at JMU has led students to report incidents more readily and to seek help for a friend who may be having trouble.
Kizner and Doug Alderfer, Rockingham County Schools assistant superintendent of administration, said it’s vital that students connect with educators. Trust between students and adults is built through programs or projects that foster one-on-one time and sharing, they said.
“The power of having one caring adult in the life of a child cannot be underrated,” Stewart said.
Panelists also addressed issues raised through audience questions or comments, including male versus female communication skills, how certain forms of violence are legitimized through our culture and why certain violent acts get more media attention than others.
The 90-minute-long discussion resonated with commentator Carol Hurney, executive director of JMU’s Center for Faculty Innovation.
“I feel I need to redefine my role on this campus [and] make more connections,” Hurney said. “I think I finally have hit on what it should mean for me to ‘be the change.’”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org