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Home Education The Impact of Violence at Maryland Schools

The Impact of Violence at Maryland Schools

The Toll on Students and Faculty: Part One of a Two Month Series

The impact of violence at Maryland schools reaches much further than the people directly affected. It seems that nearly every week, a crime resulting in serious injuries, or even death, occurs. While most of these crimes involve guns and are targeted toward adults, some have another intended target – unsuspecting students.

What was meant to be a more relaxed year, three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been just the opposite. This year, dozens of total school shootings have been accounted for across the country. Maryland has significantly contributed to this number in the past 50+ years, ranking in the top ten states with the most school shootings, according to World Population Review — and this rise in crime doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

During the 2019–20 school year, about 939,000 violent incidents and 487,000 nonviolent incidents occurred in U.S. public schools. Seventy percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident, and 62 percent reported having at least one nonviolent incident.*

Grouped together, NPR found that a total of 27 school shootings have taken place across the country since May 25, 2022. School faculty is painfully aware of the danger this imposes: “Almost every day there’s a new news story about a mass shooting, whether in a school or not,” says Sabrina Elshafei, a teacher at Folly Quarter Middle School. “As teachers, we have a lot more training dedicated to this area, which is scary, but necessary.”

Counselors’ Fears About School Violence

Samantha Straub, MS, LCPC, Chair of Upper School Counseling and Wellness at Severn School explains, “Whenever I hear of another school shooting on the news, my fight or flight response kicks in, even if the event took place hundreds of miles from my own school building. My heart breaks for the victims, their families, their community, the first responders, and, of course, their teachers, administrators, and fellow-students. I go right to, “That could have been my school.” And I know that students and educators all over the country go to that same place in their heads. I know that, in the days and weeks after a school shooting, I’m going to have some of my own students in my counseling office needing a safe space to process their fears and confusion. I know that my school is going to look to my fellow counselors and me for guidance in the aftermath.”

“This is to say that a school shooting ANYWHERE puts me and counselors/ educators EVERYWHERE into crisis response mode. And that is because our communities internalize these types of tragedies, regardless of physical proximity, on a personal level. School shootings are not just a crisis for the communities that are directly affected. They are a crisis by proxy for all schools, educators, and students. And we know that repeated exposure to trauma can take a toll on a body and a brain, causing spikes in cortisol that can lead to chronic inflammation and physical ailments, brain fog that can make learning difficult if not impossible, and difficulties with self-regulation.”

Processing Big Emotions

“Certainly, students experiencing grief or anxiety in the aftermath of a shooting–even a shooting they simply heard about on the news or social media– do not function at their best. And the same is true for educators, which means that, in the aftermath of a shooting, in order for schools to fully serve their students, it’s critical for all community members to take time and space necessary to process big emotions when they come up. But time is a finite resource and one that is notoriously hard to come by in schools, not to mention the resource of qualified mental health professionals to guide such dialogues.

Further, even if there IS space and time available, that doesn’t eliminate the looming fear of “’could this happen in my school?’” for anyone. And thus the threat of a school shooting becomes another background worry for students (and their adults) to carry around–taking up mental real estate that could otherwise be used for learning, positive risk taking, or forging important social connections.”

Increased Student Anxiety

“I have noticed an increase in anxiety surrounding students feeling safe when they go to school. We can help decrease their anxiety by talking to them and offering therapeutic services in school and at home,” says Dr. Shadonna Harris from PsychExperts & Associates, Inc.

“Yes, we’re seeing kids who are very anxious about upsetting events, including violence in schools. Kids are under significant amounts of stress–from the pandemic to concerns about school safety and academic performance–so it’s important to pay attention to how your child is handling stress and anxiety as they return to school,” reports Dr. Abena Brown- Elhillali, clinical psychologist with Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress.

“Parents should pay attention to changes in their child’s mood, including increased irritability and avoidance of activities they previously enjoyed. Parents should also pay attention to notable changes in physical functioning, including changes in their sleeping habits and appetite. Trouble falling asleep and increased sleep disturbance (nightmares, sleep walking) can also be a sign of anxiety. It’s also important to note that children who are anxious often complain of headaches and stomach pain. These signs should prompt a conversation with your child rather than be brushed off.”

Talking about scary or disturbing events with your child

“It is definitely a good idea to only share potentially upsetting information in age-appropriate ways, on a “need-to-know” basis. If your child needs to be informed of an upsetting situation to stay safe, then share the information in a sensitive, age-appropriate way. Especially for younger children, it is not necessary to discuss scary events in the news if the events are not directly affecting them, or if they have no other awareness of the event.”

How can parents know if their kids need more help?

“When anxiety is impacting daily functioning and children are unable to engage in their regular routines and activities, additional help may be needed. Parents should offer support and stability and encourage children to continue with regular routines, especially regular school attendance. If this approach is ineffective and anxiety persists for more than two weeks, I would encourage checking in with a mental health professional. Anxiety that persists for more than four weeks can indicate an anxiety disorder.”

What if kids don’t want to go to school?

“It is recommended that parents encourage children to attend school rather than avoid school. Avoiding school typically makes the fear and anxiety more intense.”

“If there are in fact safety concerns at or around the school, parents should take the time to listen to their child’s concerns and take steps to address them. Parents and children can also review the school’s safety precautions and procedures, noting for example how front doors remain locked and visitors are required to check in. It’s also helpful to have your child identify the fun and exciting things they are looking forward to as school starts. Focusing on the fun aspects of school can help children to manage their anxiety levels.”

*National Center for Education Statistics For their thoughtful comments, thank you to:

Story by Kerrigan Stern

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