After 9/11, we didn’t feel safe. How could we? People didn’t want to fly. They didn’t want to go on a subway or train. Even a bus seemed frightening. People didn’t want to leave home or go to national monuments. But somehow, we got over it; and now we do all of these things again and most of them without fear. Why? I believe it’s because of the security that we now have at airports–the very security we complain about when we are running late for our plane or traveling with a tired and hungry toddler. But it’s the very security that makes me feel safe to travel. When I go to the Arch in my hometown of St. Louis, I’ve complained about standing outside in the heat or cold, while waiting to go through the metal detectors or have my purse AND diaper bag checked. But I am thankful that the security now exists. I can go to the Arch and have fun with my family.
We need to feel like our schools are safe–just like airports and national monuments. To me, a new security system and REQUIRED safety policies are what we need to implement in EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL as well as money for more counselors–especially in the high schools. To feel safe in schools, we need new policies, and they need to be strict like airport security. Stop debating gun control (although I do question why any American needs a permit for a semi-automatic weapon?) and mental health care (although I agree it is extremely expensive to get help for mental illness), and start focusing on new policies. REGULATE and GIVE MONEY to schools, so they can protect our children.
EVERY school needs an entrance where after school starts, a person–teacher, parent, custodian, principal, student–has to be LET IN by someone already in the school. I’ve been at schools who have been able to do this. You open the front door and a camera greets you as well as a locked door. You push a button. The secretary sees you, and you state your purpose. If the secretary thinks you are all right, then she lets you into the school. And obviously one thing we are learning from Newtown, where something like this was in place, is that the glass needs to be thick and hard to break at the entrance, if possible.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not blaming any school security. I worked in schools. I was briefed on what to do with my students if a shooter came into the room after Columbine. We had a code word if we needed to protect our students. I still go into schools as a children’s author; and most of the time, only one door is unlocked. But I can walk in that door and walk right past the office where I am supposed to check in as a visitor. These schools are doing the best they can to protect their students, and they need MONEY to create more security, which is what we are going to need. I think at least all middle schools and high schools need to put in metal detectors–again we need money for this. I know we don’t want to go to school in a “prison,” but we are beyond that now. Did you watch the news this morning? Besides Newtown, there was another man shooting bullets in a busy mall parking lot and an 18-year-old arrested for planning a shooting at his high school.
We can’t let this tragedy stop us from going places. Our children still need to go to school. We need to go shopping at a mall. We need to watch our kids at their basketball game or gymnastics meet. But we need to stay safe, and I think the only way to do that is to implement policies in our schools like officials and legislators did in our airports after 9/11.
One last thought–I remember being scared to death to go to school and teach on 9/12/2001. The faculty had a brief meeting with our counselor before we were turned loose to our students. I taught fifth grade at the time, and these students WANTED to talk about what happened. They NEEDED to talk about what happened. The way I approached it was I put on the board when they walked in: Something terrible happened yesterday. If you would like to write about it in your journal, please do. If you would like to write about something else, feel free. If you would rather read, that’s a great choice. Then when I started class, I asked students to tell me what they knew or if they had any questions. This started a wonderful discussion that I will never forget, including this question, “Is a plane going to hit our school and kill us?”
Imagine what kids are thinking about tomorrow then–I encourage you to let them talk if they need to and use the resources around the web to figure out how to talk to them. Here’s a link I found: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/12/newtown-school-shootings-kids-fears
Peace to you.