A symptom of a wider problem

Why us?

Why here?

Why did he do it?

These are the questions people always have in the face of tragedy and loss. When things like the Chardon High School shooting happen, often the public and community’s focus is on looking at the lives of the victims and understanding the shooter’s motivation, usually with the feeling of anger.  But it’s really important to make sure we remember to look at the whole picture.

News headlines are showing a variety of reasons and speculation for why T.J. Lane – for all appearances, a normal, great kid with a bright future – did something this.

Was it just random?

One report said

“Lane told police that he did not know the students, that he picked them randomly,
according to the report. But some of the students who were shot had known
Lane since at least middle school. Some rode the bus with him each day.”

Was he just an overlooked danger?

Because another one points out that

“Lane wasn’t a student at Chardon, but he went there to catch a bus that would
drop him off at an alternative school for at-risk teens.”

Or is he repeating a cycle of violence from things he witnessed as a child?

Because, yet another report mentions that

“Both parents were charged with domestic violence against
each other and his father was very violent.”

Or finally, did he just do it because of a broken heart?

Because yet, another report says that

“A group of friends close to Lane’s former girlfriend told ABC News that the girl had dated Lane, and that after they broke up, she began seeing one of the victims, Russell King Jr. Lane felt forgotten after the couple broke up, one of the students said.”

The reality is that we may never know why he brought the gun that day and shot those other teens. There is no excuse that will ever justify T.J. Lane’s actions that day, but there is an explanation. It’s vital we try to understand the root cause, and this is outlined in The National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence.

“ [It] confirms that most of our society’s children are exposed to violence in their daily lives. More than 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly (i.e., as a witness to a violent act; by learning of a violent act against a family member, neighbor, or close friend; or from a threat against their home or school).”

There are two sides to every story, and many reasons that tragedies happen, but a variety of violence exposures are often at the root of these occurrences, and they are the symptoms of a wider problem. Knowing how often our children are exposed to violence is imperative, and we have to understand the whole picture of violence.

This can be done through:

  1. Continued training of practitioners and public health officials
  2. Public awareness about the problem of violence exposure
  3. Recognition of the signs of trauma
  4. Continued field research on the issue

Exposure to violence is an epidemic and a problem that affects everyone that it touches; things like the Chardon School shooting are often a symptom of this wider problem. So, what’s really important beyond just helping schools and communities to heal is to understand this whole picture of violence and continue finding ways to prevent and protect our children.

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School Innovations to Fight Bullying: Resources and Stories

“Bullying is nothing new, but attitudes about it have changed. Some of those things that were accepted as part of the norm aren’t as accepted as part of the norm any longer…Now, our hope is to teach children not only the academic skills in school but also those social skills: How do we get along together? How do we build a more successful community? How do we work together? These are skills kids can use throughout their lifetime.” – Cindy Skala, the school social worker

“How to UnMake a Bully”

 There are many approaches schools can take to combat bullying within their walls, but the better ones are the innovative ones. For example, Glendaal Elementary School in Scotia’s new video project. With the help of Skala and Mike Feurstein, a filmmaker who serves as a teacher’s aide, students at Glendaal created a 30-minute video about how three students stood up to their school bully Russell. The video portrays many of the strategies schools everywhere try to teach their students. One of the most successful strategies is letting the students participate in teaching. “It’s important to do this in kids’ voices and to listen to what kids have to say. Simply telling kids these behaviors are bad and here’s what you should do about them is not a real effective strategy for getting things to change. Adults can’t really know the reality the kids are dealing with,” says Stan Davis, a school counselor and author of “Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying.” Glendall and Feurstein have already begun a sequel about bullying and bystanders and hope to continue producing videos about other issues students face.

To watch this movie go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_430612&v=N0f6qQrvD8k&src_vid=8c2AR62HRlc&feature=iv

For further information about the project and the sequel, go to http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Unmaking-a-bully-2195325.php#page-1.

Other schools are getting creative as well. For instance, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation is using the 2011 National School Bus Safety Week to highlight issues of bullying both at school and on the bus. (http://readme.readmedia.com/Bullying-Not-on-Our-School-Buses/3064207). Also, New Jersey school districts have declared the first week of Bully Prevention Month as “Week of Respect” and “pull out all stops with daily doses of anti-bullying reinforcement.” (http://www.app.com/article/BZ/20111005/NEWS01/310050025/Schools-turn-peer-mediation-battle-bullying)

Here are some resources for schools, teachers, and parents to work together to create innovative programs of their own:

General overview of the problem, action steps, and links for schools.

http://palmharbor.patch.com/articles/caregivers-tackle-bullying-in-schools-community-8f50701d

Connect for Respect – The national PTA provides resources and trainings for parents, caregivers, and teachers on how to work together to reduce bullying and its effects on students.

http://www.pta.org/bullying.asp

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program provides resources, training, webinars, and other information about what bullying is and how to deal with it. It also provides specific resources for administrators, teachers, school staff, and parents.

http://www.olweus.org/public/index.page

Free Casey and Bella books, DVD, and curriculum created by Jan Lavascio to help children learn about bullying and how to deal with it.

http://www.caseyandbella.com/

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