Our team was recently on the ground in St. Louis, MO when a former student opened fire at a local high school — Central Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) High School. We were there supporting another St. Louis school that had been navigating unrelated safety concerns and weapons on campus, and upon learning about the shooting we immediately were ingrained in the response. We became part of the school’s team - working to keep students and staff safe that day and in the days that followed as the entire city of St. Louis processed and grieved together.
Every safety incident provides us with new learnings and also reinforces certain lessons we already know. For our team, being there and standing side by side with a school navigating the grief and trauma caused by the CVPA school shooting reinforced some important lessons. Here are just a few of them:
1. A school’s trauma is a community’s trauma.
People are affected by a school shooting far beyond the walls of the school where it takes place. In St. Louis, there were ripple effects across the entire city. We as schools often do a good job of engaging staff, students and families directly in our recovery efforts, with assemblies and counseling and trauma-centered practices. But other roles that are critical to our community – food service, bus drivers, security teams, for example – are not always included as in this recovery process. Broadening our recovery efforts to include everyone who works in or supports our campuses will help ensure a stronger, more resilient, more invested community.
2. Teachers need help talking with students after school-based shootings.
Teachers want to be there for students and give them the space to process following these kinds of events, but sometimes don’t know how. Even if they do, they’re often hurting and scared themselves, and need guidance to help them feel confident and comfortable inviting a dialogue. In St. Louis, we worked with their leadership team to develop talking points specifically designed to empower teachers to start the conversation with students, and facilitate dialogue and discussion. Taking this small step made a big difference for our education teams.
3. Our conversations about school security have often been too narrow.
There’s a broad perception – particularly among students – that security is the hardening measures a school takes to keep people out or confront those causing harm. We often hear students refer to security in terms of guards, locks, and gates. While these are very important, they’re just part of the full picture of school security. As much as possible, we should be reframing the conversation to focus on security as a mosaic, a combination of many different pieces that make up the full picture of school security. This includes not only the tangible and visible security measures students often see, but also the pieces that are less visible – the policies and protocols, observations by members of the community, threat assessments, incident reports, and notification systems that collectively allow us to identify and mitigate conflicts before they escalate to the point of a threat. Giving students a fuller understanding of what security looks like at our schools will help them better understand the important role they plan in it and ultimately, make our communities safer.
Sadly, stopping any more school shootings from taking place is unlikely, but we know every school is doing the hard work to help prevent these kinds of tragedies from taking place. These lessons are by no means comprehensive, but are good reminders of important and valuable steps that can be easily forgotten.