Saturday, October 13, 2007

School's no playground anymore

Can you recall when schools were a safe haven for kids, a place to grow and learn and make friends? This week's tragedy in Cleveland and the near-calamity in Pennsylvania made me start thinking once again about how much things have changed in recent years.

When I was a kid -- longer ago than I sometimes care to recall -- we did have a safety issue in our schools. They were in the process of being desegregated, the first schools to do so in Virginia. In junior high and again in high school, it sometimes seemed as if I attended school with as many state troopers as I did other students. Yet even during those very volatile years, I can't recall a single moment of being deeply afraid.

How different it must be for today's young people in the wake of the Columbine shootings and a myriad of other fatal incidents in schools nationwide. What kind of atmosphere must there be when metal detectors are necessary in some schools, when potential danger lurks around every corner, when any child seemingly has the potential to suddenly turn into a killer?

I wish I could wave a magic wand and come up with solutions to make things go back to the days of innocence, but far more experienced educators and security experts than I have tried and failed. Just yesterday Dr. Phil and his panel seemed stumped to come up with any sure-fire way to say this student represents danger and these do not. Given that, what can a parent do to assure the safety of their children? What can teachers do to help create a safe environment in the classroom? How about principals and administrators?

The one thing that the Pennsylvania case made clear is that young people themselves can be the first and best line of defense. Lines of communication need to stay open, conversations must take place assuring young people that telling a parent or authority figure about threats is not snitching, that it's heroic. It can save not only their lives, but those of their friends. It may even save the very person they've been intent on protecting.

If this issue has touched any of you, if it's something that troubles you, or if it's something you've dealt with in your own home, in your school system, please share those experiences with the rest of us. Conversations must take place at home, in the schools, and even right here...just between friends.

Sherryl Woods

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