Stoneman Douglas High School

Growing Up in a Half-Staff World

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Our nation has experienced yet another massacre within the walls of a school. The 24/7 cable news pundits are hitting gun control hard again. 

Yes; we have played this tape before: School shooting, thoughts and prayers, candlelight vigil, and repeat!

Is the flag still at half-staff?

As a nation have we become desensitized to these events? Is this the new normal for this generation of kids?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all in for tighter gun control laws. Children having the ability to amass large stockpiles of weapons is never good.

But, I am an educator.

And like most educators, my days are spent attending to the holistic needs of my students. On most days, restroom breaks are luxuries! So, I often ignore the news flashes that come over my cell phone throughout the day until the drive home. 

So, as I drove home from school on this Valentine's Day and learned of the latest school shooting from the radio, my tendency was to switch over to Spotify and zone out. You see, it had been a long day in my role as a trauma-informed coach and I try to practice what I preach in terms of teacher wellness. Compassion fatigue is a real issue within our profession.

But, before I had a chance to bluetooth, I heard the pundits debating whether or not I should be able to carry a gun in my classroom. Really! Are these folks really that far removed from what we educators actually do day-in and day-out?

You see I had just spent Valentine's Day; you know the day dedicated to love, working with elementary children that have gone through some pretty horrific experiences. The children that I have the opportunity to work with normally do not make it through days like these. Party days are just too much for their sympathetic nervous system to handle. But, today they made it and I counted it as a huge win!

You see, an 8 year old (or at any age) should never witness their parent being brutally murdered at point blank range. I also shouldn't have to help a 6 year old girl develop calming strategies because she was raped by her mother's drunken boyfriend.

Unlike, our veterans who come home with PTSD, I know many of my students that I work with won't be experiencing the "Post" anytime soon. But, I do know that the keys to building their resiliency skills include: Creating safe learning environments, building relationships & connectedness, and supporting and teaching emotional regulation. 

It doesn't take a neuroscientist to figure out how these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) impact the developing brain. But, for those that need it, here is the video. 

For those that are serious about changing this narrative we find ourselves in, you would be wise to rewind the tapes of these shooter's lives. The entire tape. Long before the child started collecting guns, or playing violent video games, or addicted to drugs, or fill in the blank. You see according to the ACE study, what we can predict, we can also prevent.

Rarely, have I seen the media outlets cover this angle. However, they are quick to place traumatized kids in front of the national cameras and "apologetically" interview them before these kids even had a chance to process with crisis counselors. That should be labeled as child abuse! 

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If we are to correct this narrative, we need to act on the neuroscience of toxic stress and start funding trauma-informed schools that embed  social and emotional learning into the curriculum. We also need dedicated therapists that can better address these kids toxic stress and trauma. I'm not talking about calming rooms here. I'm talking about mental health professionals operating within school-based health clinics.

I'm tired of people referencing my work as "soft skills." In today's climate as we have witnessed once again, they are critical life skills!

Oh, and one last request; when I said funding, I wasn't suggesting bake sales. 

Call to Action: Please contact your local & state school boards to advocate for additional funding for mental health professionals with an emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) in our schools!

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DR. JIM WALTERS, AN EDUCATOR WITH OVER 25 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE SERVING IN BOTH SUBURBAN AND URBAN COMMUNITIES, WAS AN EARLY TRAUMA-INFORMED SCHOOL ADOPTER IN THE ST. LOUIS REGION. THROUGH HIS CONSULTING COMPANY; TRAUMAINFORMEDLEARNING.COM, HE NOW ASSISTS SCHOOLS IN THEIR QUEST TO BUILD HEALTHIER AND MORE RESILIENT COMMUNITIES THROUGH A TRAUMA-INFORMED LENS.