What does it mean to be safe?
Some of our staff met after school on Tuesday February 27. We had scheduled the meeting to discuss the possibility of our participation in the national walk out called for March 14 to support gun control and commemorate the victims of the school shooting in Florida. However, it also happened to be the day our school building was picked by the DOE for a random scan. All middle and high school students as well as all adults who came in to the building after 8:30am were to be scanned by school safety at entry. Teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators shared their feelings in our meeting about having metal detectors in our school: Who was upset by it? Who felt safer with the scanners? What did the children say? What were their questions? How did we reassure the children who came in to the cafeteria for breakfast and saw police officers and scanners? It was a rich conversation that reflected many different experiences.
When we met with the principal of BCS, she shared an email from a BCS parent that brought up some of our thoughts about the scanners and fears of school shooting. The parent shared that her daughter spoke about the feelings of being criminalized and being treated unfairly by society, brought to light by the scanning at school. They re-framed this conversation in comparison to the public reactions to previous school shootings. After Columbine in 1999, “zero tolerance” policies were put in place for public schools, and these policies led to disproportionate numbers of suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary actions for black and brown students. She encouraged us to consider how “a mass shooting in one community, often in middle America, is not reflective of the experiences of children of color attending schools in urban communities.”
Our 610 Henry Street community has decided to answer the call from #Enough: National School Walkout.
As a school, BNS is always encouraging our learners to think through issues of social justice. Being safe in school can be seen, in a broader sense, as a call for justice. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of student-led walkouts in East Los Angeles where Chicano students demanded an equal, qualitative and culturally relevant education. It is also the 50th anniversary of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville battles over community control of schools amid demands for an equal, qualitative and culturally relevant education, which BNS graduate Dakari Johnson’s grandfather took part in. So we see the March 14 walk out in important historical context.
The BNS Staff will participate in the call to walk out. Classroom teachers will lead their classes outside around 10:00, and we will remain outside until 10:17, following the guidelines from #Enough National School Walkout. We will encircle the building as a community. Teachers have discussed plans for activities while the students are outside, including movements, songs and other child-centered actions to make the time meaningful. At the end of this letter is a form to fill out if you do NOT want your child to participate. BCS is also planning to participate in the walkout, so our entire 610 Henry community will be outside of the building.
Here is the mission statement from #Enough National School Walkout, the student-led coordinating arm of the walk out:
We are living in an age where young people like us do not feel safe in our schools. This issue is personal for all of us, especially for those of us who are survivors of gun violence. We are walking out for ALL people who have experienced gun violence, including systemic forms of gun violence that disproportionately impact teens in Black and Brown communities. It is important that when we refer to gun violence, we do not overlook the impact of police brutality and militarized policing, or see police in schools as a solution. We also recognize the United States has exported gun violence through imperialist foreign policy to destabilize other nations. We raise our voices for action against all these forms of gun violence.
Maybe some of you are wondering how the Florida shooting and safety in general is discussed at BNS. Below are snapshots of what has been discussed in each grade:
We have spent the whole year talking about being and feeling safe. The discussion began, as all of our explorations often do, through a story. We have several books that address these topics in ways that are developmentally and age appropriate, including several curated by Lesley Koplow of Emotionally Responsive Practice at the Bank Street College of Education. We listen to the children’s thoughts, reactions, and questions about the stories. We ask open-ended, non-leading questions to encourage a conversation and find out what children are wondering. As teachers we are very curious to learn what the children think safety looks, sounds, and feels like.
We also have many examples to illustrate how our school community works to keep each other safe. We will take our bears on a walk down our halls to greet the school safety officers as well as office staff and the host of other teachers who help to keep us all safe. We’ll take the bears outside to the playground to demonstrate how we keep each other safe outside our school: walking with our line partners, listening to and waiting for our teachers, helping each other when we fall or get upset. We’ll remind the children that the bears did not come down from the high shelf in the classroom until the bears were sure the children would keep them safe. Feeling safe and helping others feel safe has been a focus all year. We will continue.
Here is some guidance from the Early Childhood Division of the NYCDOE regarding these conversations with our youngest students.
Lockdown drills are framed in relation to fire drills. We tell the children, “Sometimes we practice staying safe by leaving the building being quiet and focused, and sometimes, like with this drill, we practice being safe by being quiet and still in the classroom. Sometimes there are things outside our school that we need to stay safe from by being quiet in our room, and sometimes there are things happening in the building that we need to stay away from.”
When the building has a lockdown drill, children often bring up the prospect of there being someone shooting people. We tell the children, “That’s not happening right now, right now we are practicing being safe in our room. But if there was someone who was hurting people with a gun in our building this is what we would do, we would be still and quiet in our classroom.”
It is likely that some kids who know about the shooting at Parkland will want to talk about it in the context of our next lockdown drill. If children say something about the possibility of a shooting, we will hear what they have to say, what they know, ask for their questions and try to correct any inaccuracies or confusions as best we could.
In our class, kids did not say anything until Tuesday morning when security guards and scanners were at the entrances to the building, and so we didn’t say anything until then either. We had decided that we would only bring the incident up with the kids if they were talking about it themselves. They came upstairs that day talking about the “police”, “weapons” and a “shooting in Florida” in which “people died”. They knew that Florida was “not very far away”. Some of the kids said that they had felt scared and that they had cried. We talked about the incident as something scary and sad. We also talked about the way that the kids in Florida responded: demanding that something be done so that something terrible and sad like that would never ever happen again. We talked about one idea – out of many – that people were trying was to make sure that nothing dangerous got into a school building. Since BNS/BCS is already such a safe school, this isn’t something that we need to do every day – only randomly, just to be absolutely certain. Kids said that they noticed Anna downstairs that morning and that she was making sure everyone was safe and comfortable.
On and before Wednesday, March 14, we will also be talking about protest as a form of social action, an idea that the kids understand from the context of civil rights, which we have discussed through readings. We will talk about guns and the idea that there are just too many guns in the world and in our country. We will be walking out along with kids all over the country to let people in power know that this needs to be a more peaceful world.
We talk about lockdowns and drills very simply: sometimes we stay in the building and sometimes we leave the building. None of the adults in the classroom have overheard children speak about Parkland, and children have not asked questions to the adults.
One class talked about the incident as it came up due to the metal detector last week. We talked about some of the details and why metal detectors were present. When kids asked why a student would do that, I said we can’t presume to know what was in the person’s mind or what he was feeling. We talked about the purpose of metal detectors and why they would be used in schools
We briefly reviewed information about the Parkland shooting, but focused mainly on the actions of the Parkland students who have been standing up for gun control. We talked about how we might want to support them. We mentioned the three different upcoming actions and asked what our students wanted to do. They said they wanted to join in encircling the building on 3/14, and possibly participate in some type of action on April 20th. They had a lot of ideas about how to make schools safer, which we said we would continue to talk about.
Student comments included many opinions on increasing gun control in the country. Many students have noticed posters taped up around the school encouraging people to take action for gun control, including events on March 14th and April 20th. Some have expressed curiosity about what the school is planning to do and are interested in discussing it further.
In our class we asked the students to write about what they did over break, and then we had a discussion about what they’ve been thinking about. Their comments went from the Olympics, to the environment, racism and gun control. We read articles from Newsela (5th grade versions) about what the students from Parkland are organizing and why. We have continued this conversation in written and discussion style and will continue to discuss it this week as we read other Newsela articles. We are also reading about the proliferation of plastic in the world and what that is doing to the environment.
We knew that our students were aware of what happened (in Parkland), as they came back from February break asking us questions such as, “Would you carry a gun?” and “Would you have opened the door?” These are questions that they shouldn’t have to ask and that we shouldn’t have to even consider.
We were struck by their earnest desire to know if we were going to keep them safe, who was going to keep them safe? So we set out to look for sources to anchor our discussion in facts that would help them gain a rudimentary understanding of different perspectives on gun rights, laws and the student lead movement that has risen up demanding more stringent gun laws. We wanted them to know that there are people who are speaking up to protect them, and who will continue to fight until change occurs, students just like them, teachers just like us, parents, just like you.
We had heartfelt discussions about power, human rights, the NRA and our students’ concerns about safety. We discussed the March for Our Lives (April 20) and the walk-out across the country on March 14th as opportunities for people’s voices and demands to be heard by our government and as actions that are standing up to demand gun law reform. We promise you and them to continue to provide a safe space for children to question, learn and grow as individuals and as a collective community during these scary times.
In hopes of a brighter future,
Below is a form for parents to sign if they DO NOT want their child to participate in the walk out on March 14. Please sign and return if you do not want your child to participate.
On Wed March 14, BNS and BCS students will walk out of 610 Henry Street to join the #Enough National School Walk Out. BNS students will be supervised by staff in the school yards.
Parents: Please sign and return this form if you DO NOT want your child to participate in the March 14 walk out called by #Enough National School Walk Out. Children who are not participating will be supervised by school staff in classrooms.
Child’s name Teacher(s)
Parent/guardian name (please print) Parent/guardian signature
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