Educators Taking Action in Response to Gun Violence

By: Morgan Grant, CEI Intern

Editor’s Note: Youth and others are gathering this Saturday, March 24, for the Protest to Live marches and rallies. This protest brings a ray of hope that it may lead to much needed actions to reduce school shootings. In this blog, Morgan Grant explores other actions that are also needed.

With the vast number of gun shootings happening across the country, schools have been faced with uncertainty with how to respond. Nationwide debates have emerged over how schools should handle gun violence. Some believe that school teachers or security should be armed with weapons, while others oppose this and strongly support stricter gun laws. In fact, schools in some states, like Texas, now have armed educators (Hansen, 2018; Hennessy-Fiske, 2018; Melton, 2018). Regardless of public opinion, it is school faculty, staff and students that will experience first-hand any changes regarding gun violence laws in education. It is also likely that national laws regarding this issue will not pass anytime, leaving most schools with limited options to handle these situations.

But, what can educators and schools do? Many schools are also now conducting safety drills where students and teachers practice barricading doors, hiding under desks and lock-in options. Although sometimes it may be better to flee the building. These are tough calls and policies and protocols are still evolving.

Some schools have already implemented useful programs that provide an open space for students to discuss their fears and thoughts about gun violence. These initiatives focus on empowering students by using key aspects of social emotional learning to learn to manage their emotions, and learn self-restraint, persistence, and self-awareness.  Since some research has shown that school shooters, as well as school bullies, often feel alienated and isolated, programs use strategies to help students understand more about themselves, regulate their emotions, and also heighten compassion and empathy within schools. Below we have reviewed three school programs that are making a positive impact.

Chicago. Namaste Charter School, in south side Chicago, working with Mindful Practices and the University of Chicago, developed a schoolwide social emotional learning curriculum to address gun violence and crime in their community. Namaste Charter School has over 480 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, 90% of whom are Latino and 80% qualifying for reduced or free lunch. Faculty and staff are trained to recognize trauma, implement mindfulness, and use emotional check-ins to improve student well-being. Namaste devotes 30 minutes a week to its mindfulness practices.  Daily physical education, yoga, breathing techniques, a peace room, and organic meals also enhance student well-being. Key components of this program are:

  • Emotional awareness
  • Positive peer relationships
  • Self-reflection
  • Promoting a peaceful school culture
  • Restorative discipline, a collaborative, dialogue driven approach to establishing deeper and more meaningful relationships and reduce punitive discipline practices. (Unruh, 2017; Ward, 2017).

New York. ReACTION, created by the New Yorkers Against Gun Fund, is a youth program for middle and high school students that promotes education and leadership to train students to become peer mentors. The objective of this year-long program is to reduce gun violence in these communities. The program educates students about gun violence and the dangerous effects of bullying and exclusion. ReACTION is known for combining elements of a lecture style presentation and everyday conversation to provide a safe space for students to share their thoughts.

The program focuses on:

  • Self-awareness
  • Peer conflict resolution
  • Suicide prevention
  • Project management and teamwork
  • Public speaking
  • Gun education

As of now, reACTION is used in New York City schools and the students who join the program have primarily been affected by gun violence. Students who have graduated from the reACTION program state that they feel empowered to better their communities (New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Education Fund, 2013).

Connecticut. “Think about how you’re feeling this morning, we’re going to do our morning
circle, you’re going to tell me how you’re feeling and why,’ says Amanda to her students.

In Amanda Finch’s classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary, students routinely share their feelings in a morning circle group. Prior to the circle, students have self-identified their emotions using a colored-coded stick system (DesRoches, 2017).

In response to the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some schools have begun to work closely with the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to provide educators with a free social emotional learning curriculum. This program was created with evidence-based research that highly suggests that making the conscious effort to be compassionate reduces the likelihood of violence. The goal of the program is for students to recognize and understand their emotions in order to express them in a healthy manner.

Through the Jesse Lewis Choose Love program students learn to:

  • Cope with stress
  • Express their feelings to others
  • Make responsible choices
  • Set positive and realistic goals
  • Create meaningful relationships

Currently the program has been downloaded over 2,789 times, and used in classrooms nationwide and over 50 countries (DesRoches, 2017; Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, 2017).

A Few Minutes a Day

Although these programs take extra time and effort to execute in the classroom, the results have shown us that it is definitely time worth spending. Using some of these techniques even for a few minutes a day could help make a difference (Hansen, 2018; Hennessy-Fiske, 2018; Melton, 2018). Even if educators do not want to purchase an entire program, many aspects of social emotional learning can be applied to the classroom at a low cost. Mindfulness exercises, daily emotional check-ins, teachable moments, class meetings and community building are free tools that can be used (Mulvahill, 2017).

With the number of school shootings, bullying incidents and other acts of violence, what do educators have to lose by trying these techniques? What initiatives can educators implement in their own classrooms to help empower students and reduce fears of gun violence?  How can community resources be used to develop school-wide social emotional learning programs?

References

DesRoches, D. (2017). Five years after Sandy Hook shooting, social and emotional learning programs thrive in schools. WNPR.

Hansen, M. (2018). There are ways to make schools safer and teachers stronger-but they don’t involve guns. Brookings.

Hennessy-Fiske, M. (2018). As gun debate roils on, teachers in this Texas school are already armed. Los Angeles Times.

Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation. (2017). Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement.

Melton, G. D. (2018). One teacher’s brilliant strategy to stop future school shootings. Reader’s Digest.

Mulvahill, E. (2017). 21 ways teachers can integrate social-emotional learning. We Are Teachers.

New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Education Fund. (2013). How does reACTION work? NYAGV.

Unruh, J. (2017). Mindfulness at the center of South Side school’s education. WGN9.

Ward, J. (2017). South side school using new approach for kids facing violence and poverty. DNAinfo.

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