The most in-demand toys for children are becoming more complex, and some can turn dangerous if not properly vetted or used.
In some neighborhoods — and near many schools — in our region, young people face the threat of gun violence on a daily basis.
So, how do children cope with the trauma of gun violence?
We take a look at the physical and psychological effects, and speak with a student and educator about what helps kids heal.
Plus, Guns & America reporting fellow Alana Wise joins us to discuss what the data says about shootings near schools in D.C.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Raymond Weeden Senior Director of Policy and Community Engagement, D.C. Prep
- Megan McCormick Child Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
- Jenaia Magruder Rising Junior, Thurgood Marshall Academy; Leader, Pathways 2 Power
- Alana Wise Reporting Fellow, Guns & America; @alanawise_
Pathways 2 Power
Launched in 2018, Pathways 2 Power is a student-led initiative started out of Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C. that seeks to support and empower local young people to take lead on causes that impact their lives and their futures, such as gun violence, mental health, education, poverty, and gentrification.
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. In some neighborhoods and near many schools in our region young people face the threat of gun violence on an almost daily basis. So how do children cope with the trauma of gun violence and the threat of it? And what can parents and teachers do to help them heal? Joining me in studio is Alana Wise. She's a reporting fellow with Guns & America. Guns & America is a national collaborative project based here at WAMU reporting on the role of guns in American life. Alana, good to see you.
ALANA WISEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIThe Guns & America team began collecting this data last year when we were seeing a spike in homicides in the District, which has for the most part remained steady. What have you found in your reporting on gun violence near schools in Washington?
WISESo what we found in the course of our reporting was that at least 84 schools in D.C. experienced one or more gun shots within the vicinity, within 1,000 feet of them during the 2016-2017 school year during normal hours. So that includes both morning and afternoon programs. We excluded holidays, half days and adult education centers to give us a clearer picture of what we were working with.
NNAMDIIn what parts of the city where these shootings concentrated?
WISESo we saw most of the shootings concentrated in southeast, which is actually where we saw a majority of the city's homicides last year when we saw the big spike in killings last year.
NNAMDIWhat happens when a shooting occurs near a school during the day? What's the protocol?
WISESo what's interesting is that MPD treats shootings that happen near schools like shootings that happen anywhere else. They will alert students or faculty or very often faculty themselves will hear the gun shots and make a determination whether they need to shelter in place or go into a full lockdown, which will effectively shut off both in and out traffic to the school.
WISEAfter they've made communications with the MPD, MPD will arrive at the scene, look for victims, look for suspects and treat it like a normal shooting. But the protocol that happens within the school is actually the more interesting component, like I said, they'll go into lockdown depending on the severity or how close gun shots seem to be. They may have students -- they may have teachers lock the doors. Students may be told to be quiet. Shelter in place, classes may not change. If students are outside for recess or other activities they'll be moved indoors, doors will be locked. If gates are available, they'll be locked as well.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio is Raymond Weeden. He is currently Senior Director of Policy and Community Engagement at D.C. Prep. He'll be transitioning to a role as Executive Director of Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter on July 1st. Raymond Weeden, thanks for joining us.
RAYMOND WEEDENThanks for having me.
NNAMDIWell, you're still the Senior Director of Policy and Community Engagement at D.C. Prep for a few more weeks. How often have you heard gunshots outside your school?
WEEDENSo hearing gunshots and I think actually responding to gunshots are two separate things. I would say we probably hear gunshots within, who knows, a couple blocks of our building once every two to three days. We are able to get alerts from the city recently, which is we put our schools on an app. And that app will say to us, hey, there are shots happening in your neighborhood. We just want you to know.
WEEDENIn terms of responding to shots, we typically only go into a situation where we need to be in, you know, building mode or something like that when they're closer to the school, which is kind of hard, because we actually the ones sometimes who are making -- deciphering whether it is something that is immediate issue or something that is a couple blocks away, which is scary when we say a couple of blocks away is somewhat safer than something that is directly around the corner.
NNAMDIThat is indeed scary. How do the kids act in that type of situation?
WEEDENYou know, kids are kids, right. So we have the whole spectrum in terms of how kids are responding. So we had an incident unfortunately this November where we had our early childhood students were outside at recess. And there were 47 rounds fired in November, which was about a block away from our school. So we were able to hear the firing and our teachers and teens were able to bring the students inside. And we actually went on lockdown in that situation.
WEEDENBut the spectrum of how kids responded depends on actually what is going on with them that day. It's not just the shooting. It could be, did they have breakfast? It could be, did they come to school late? It could be like did they sleep well because there may have been shootings the night before. It could be that the shooting may be triggering a different response, because of a memory they have because someone who they know or love has been shooting. So typically our team does a really great job of being able to get kids to calm down and get them back into like a learning space.
WEEDENBut, you know, if you think about a building that has about 400 kids, I don't want to say there's one specific way in which kids respond, because it's really unfair to them.
NNAMDIAnd we did a Kojo Road Show --
NNAMDILast year at D.C. Prep on this issue and Raymond Weeden is the one who helped facilitate that. So thank you for that.
WEEDENThanks for coming.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Royston Maxwell Lyttle, a principal at Eagle Academy. Max Lyttle, thank you so much for joining us.
MAX LYTTLEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIDuring your time as a principal at Eagle Academy, how often has that school gone into lockdown?
LYTTLEWe went to lockdown this school year four different occasions.
NNAMDIOn four different occasions?
NNAMDIAnd what was the response -- when you go into lockdown, what is the response of the faculty, the administration? What's the response of the students?
LYTTLEWell, Eagle Academy trains our staff on lockdown procedures and we also have the trainings throughout the school year for our students to prepare for any type of situation. When we do have these trainings just like previously mentioned, a lot of our students, you know, who are between three and nine years old have family members who have been shot or killed, loved ones or even classmates and then they are required to come to school and act normal.
LYTTLESo we have to provide these students with social emotional support to help them cope with these situations. When it comes to the school, when we are having our drills, you can tell when parents have had these discussions with their children, because when we have the lockdown procedures and the students do go into hiding you see some students afraid. So even if it's a practice they're still afraid, because it's unknown what's going to happen to them and that's sad to know that students throughout D.C. have to go through this experience.
NNAMDIEven closer to home for you, a few years ago a student's father was killed outside school grounds. What was that like?
LYTTLEIt was a terrifying situation for all the students, because it did happen right outside the school. But it wasn't related to anything that had involved Eagle Academy. But like you said the student's father was killed right outside of the school. And with him, you know, we had to provide that social emotional support for him, because it was a struggle and then being able to talk to him and hear him express that he's scared to come to school because -- or he doesn't want to school because he has to go by the same area where his father was killed.
NNAMDIAlana Wise, how do police respond when there are reports of gunshots outside a school?
WISESo police treat shootings outside of schools like they treat any other shootings. They'll get in touch with the school. Let them know that something has happened and then they will come to investigate. Only when it's what we call a school shootings wherein there's active shooter within an educational center do they break from that protocol. But police will get reports of a shooting either from faculty or someone in the neighborhood or they'll have a report come in from their shot spotter data, which is the data we at Guns & America analyzed for this story.
WISEThey'll get the reports of a shooting. They'll arrive, look for a victim, look for witnesses, look for suspects. And then at that point they'll get in touch with the schools and let them know what they found and whether or not it's safe to come out from under lockdown or if further steps need to be taken.
NNAMDIMax Lyttle, how have you felt about the police response to shootings near your school?
LYTTLEOne thing about it is that we had to partner with some of the neighborhood schools and we reached out to them, because we don't always receive the message that there's been a shooting in the area. We have our security or our staff who hears the shootings and that's when we react and bring the students if they're on a playground back inside. And that's when we have to go into parameter lockdown, but as a whole right now, the Metropolitan Police Department does not alert our school when there's a shooting in the area.
NNAMDISame question to you Raymond Weeden.
WEEDENI would say more often than not it is because of neighbors or friends or other schools, who are alerting us as to what is happening in the neighborhood. There has been improvement since we honestly started making a lot of fuss about this starting in November about how we needed to have a more rapid response. Not just to schools, but also to the early childcare centers and the daycares and the churches and to other people who are serving people during those times of day.
WEEDENOne thing that happened in November is that now every single day the whole neighborhood knows between 10:00 and 11:00 the daycare walks around with the kids with those ropes that they use. Well, the shooting happened at 10:45. So that was the first thing that I thought about is like the zero to three year olds who are walking around right now during that time, like how are they finding out what is happening? So things have gotten better, but I think there is still huge gaps in the communication.
NNAMDIShould there be more police near schools particularly during arrival and dismissal times?
WEEDENSo I go back and forth on that. You know, so as a black male I worry about over policing something that is really prevalent in our neighborhoods and the amount of work that we still need to do to restore trust in a lot of our neighborhoods. That being said I think there is a place where community policing and when I say community policing I'm talking about spending time outside of the police car. Walking around whether it's segways or bikes, just being around and present. As, you know, the officer that you see sometimes in those happy go lucky movies that is able to like engage with students in such a way that like when there is trouble or where there is issue people are more willing to reach out to them.
WEEDENBut, again, I would say 7D, I'm done a lot of work with Commander Wright and his team. They have actually drastically improved how they're doing that in the last couple of months. And I really appreciate that, but we still have a long way to go as a city as a whole.
NNAMDIMax Lyttle, same question to you. Should there be more police near schools particularly during arrival and dismissal times?
LYTTLEI believe that there should be police presence somewhere in the area so that our students and families feel safe especially when there's a situation that happened probably in the previous day. A lot of times when there's a shooting around the school area what we notice is that police presence is noticeable for two days and then that third day it goes back to normal. And then you no longer see the police presence until another situation occurs.
NNAMDIMax Lyttle is a principal at Eagle Academy. His is one of the five schools found by the Guns & America analysis to have had at least 10 shootings during school hours in the 2016-2017 academic year. Max Lyttle, thank you so much for joining us.
LYTTLEThanks a lot.
NNAMDIHere's Nathan in southeast Washington. Nathan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NATHANHey, Kojo. Thanks for having me on. So I'm a social worker at Anacostia High School. And unfortunately this is something that we deal with so often that it's become something that we've had to be very intentional about and kind of build into the culture of the school in terms of like how we approach students who have experienced gun violence. We had a loss of a student very recently last December. And so, you know, as we go throughout our day we have to take into account that a lot of our students in the community have encounters with gun violence and we have to make adjustments as to how we approach them and what that means for their education.
NNAMDIWhen you say you have to make adjustments, what do those adjustments look like?
NATHANSure. So it's a lot of mental health programming. We have a very strong mental health team. We have a lot of different creative ways to approach trauma care using the arts and music. And we weave in social emotional learning into our curriculum. And as a result -- I don't have the numbers in front of me. But as a result we have seen better outcomes in the last two or three years since we've been implementing a heavy focus on trauma informed care.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us, Nathan. Alana, what's the rule of the school resource officer during a lockdown and do all schools have resource officers?
WISESo, no. Not every school has a standing school resource officer present. When I spoke to MPD, they said that what they tried to do is have some that cycle in and out of schools in a given period, but one thing that I did hear from educators and education stakeholders was that they do wish that there could be a standing presence, an officer in the schools every day who the students could get to know. As Raymond mentioned and kind of have a good relationship and a rapport with when there is something happening.
WISESo in the event that there is an incident school resource officers when they're there where they are, are kind of a first line of defense for the schools. They may be the ones who get in touch with the principal and kind of help inform the decisions of what should happen. Whether they should go into a full lockdown or whether the perimeter should be secured. So while not every school has one, those that do what I found in the course of my reporting, they try to work with the resource officers as they would with the MPD and make it a standing presence and try to get them involved whenever there is an incident to get it resolved as quickly as possible.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, but this conversation about shooting near schools is going to be going on for the rest of this hour. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back we're talking about shootings near schools in D.C. with Alana Wise, a Reporting Fellow with Guns & America, which is a national collaborative project based here at WAMU reporting on the role of guns in American life. Raymond Weeden is currently Senior Director of Policy and Community Engagement at D.C. Prep. He will be transitioning to Executive Director of Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School on July 1st. And also with us in studio joining us is Jenaia Magruder, a Rising Junior at Thurgood Marshall Academy and a Leader at Pathways 2 Power. Jenaia, thank you so much for joining us.
JENAIA MAGRUDERThanks for having me.
NNAMDIHave you ever experienced a lockdown at your school?
MAGRUDERYes. We have experienced a few lockdowns at our school.
NNAMDIWhat was that experience like for you?
MAGRUDERWell, like during the lockdown I don't really like know what's going on around us, because usually they just come on announcements and say like, we have a hold in place, or like, stay in the classrooms, and stuff like that. So usually I don't really like have an idea of what's going on around us. But like afterwards I'll come home and my mom will be like, oh there was a shooting near your school or down the street. And I was like -- I'll be like, wow. Like something could have happened to us. Me, like anybody outside of like the area. And it's like crazy, because anything could have happened in that moment.
NNAMDIWhen you actually hear gunshots outside school, what goes through your mind?
MAGRUDERLike I kind of like freeze up a little bit, because I'm like, how far is it, like is it down the street, is it like right on the corner, like it's kind of scary.
NNAMDIDo you feel safe when you're inside school walls?
MAGRUDERI do feel safe at school because like there's just something about like our school -- I know that if something is going on I feel like if it's not inside of the school, I think we're going to be protected.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Dr. Megan McCormick. She is a child Clinical Psychologist at the Department of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Thank you so much for joining us.
MEGAN MCCORMICKThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhat kind of effect do these threats, gunshots outside of a school, repeated lockdowns have on kids?
MCCORMICKWell, from a mental health standpoint we think of gun violence in terms of two things, potential trauma and chronic stress. So we all know that we have a stress response system in our body that's supposed to be there. It's really good actually at handling stress in the short term, but what our bodies and our brains are not programmed to do is to use that system in the long term or kind of activate it chronically. And so the way that this impacts kids in particular is kind of through two different ways. Most people are familiar with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And so obviously if a child, a kid experiences a shooting at their school first hand that's an experience that can really take hold in their brain and create a situation where the person is re-experiencing that on a chronic basis.
MCCORMICKSo even though the stressor may be over, the traumatic event may be over, they're reliving it in their body and their brain in the same way that they did at the moment and, again, our bodies aren't programmed to do that. The other side of this is chronic adversity. And this is something that people don't know as much about. We use the words toxic stress, because, again, even if it's just shootings in the neighborhood knowing that you're in a violent community, you know, going to sleep at night with gunshots in the background that's something that's still putting our brains and bodies on high alert. It's kicking in a certain system in our brains and our bodies that is used to protect against threat and to focus solely on survival.
MCCORMICKSo at the end of the day the other systems that we have in our body that we need to use at school, right, the parts of our brain that help us learn, solve problems, show what we know, use our logic and reasoning, those things are really secondary when we're facing stress and adversity. And we all have this process in our body. It happens to everybody. We all know the feeling of being panicked or being stricken with fear, but what's different is that when our bodies and our brains are experiencing this on a regular basis whether because we have untreated PTSD or we have this chronic stressor, we never get a break from it. And so our bodies and our brains start to overuse these systems even in places where we might actually be safe.
MCCORMICKSo we tend to expect the next shoe to drop, expect the unsafe thing to come around the next corner and as a result of that this is why kids often underperform in school. They'll look like they're highly sensitive. They may become aggressive or look defiant or unmotivated. All of those are just very understandable very logical responses to a person, who's on high alert at all times because trauma really strips us of our sense of predictability and control.
NNAMDIAlana Wise, did you find in your reporting that students are becoming in a way desensitized to the violence?
WISEYeah. So one thing that I heard was that given the number of lockdowns that they have to go under, given the number of shootings that these kids experience, they're kind of -- there's several different responses that kids will take and one of them is as we previously mentioned this sort of constant tensing almost wherein they're reflexively always consistently worried about will happen. Or on the other hand is that they've gotten so used to this potential threat of violence that to use the word desensitized, they almost feel desensitized to it. It's routine for them. It's something that's happened so often, something that's become such almost normal part of their routines that it's as pedestrian as anything else that we would go through and would normally expect.
NNAMDIMegan, as a child psychologist can you tell us this desensitization must be some kind of coping mechanism; is it?
MCCORMICKYeah, exactly. So even though it appears like desensitization the impact is still being felt every time in the brain and the body. This is more just a mechanism that whereby the person kind of shuts down in order to cope with a chronically stressful situation. But we know that the toxic impact on the brain and the body is still being felt every time.
NNAMDIJenaia Magruder, I'm wondering if this is something you and your classmates have experienced at all. Do you feel that the lockdowns happen enough that you're in a sense becoming used to them?
MAGRUDERI mean, like nobody should ever become used to a lockdowns, because something like this isn't normal. Like school shootings and shootings in the neighborhood shouldn't be made normal, because kids shouldn't have to worry about coming to school safe. Like they should be worrying about being kids and not worrying about, if I walk outside my house, what's going to happen to me? If I come to school, like if I come to school and nobody outside is somebody going to like hurt me or something like that. So I don't think a number of lockdowns could make anything be normal, because it's not normal.
NNAMDIAnd we were talking about it earlier that when we were in school and even our jobs we get fire drills a lot. And if you get enough fire drills after a while when the alarm goes off and it happens to be a real fire, there's some people who say, well, I'm not going any place. It's just another drill, but you don't think that happens in your school.
MAGRUDERLike, what do you mean?
NNAMDIThat you get so desensitized to it that it doesn't bother you when you're in lockdown.
MAGRUDERWe don't a lot of lockdowns in our schools. So it's like -- when it happens it's like, well, what's really going on. But maybe if you have like a number of lockdowns some might actually feel like that, like it's normal, which it's not.
WEEDENNo. I just think it's interesting that we have gotten to a place where we actually say -- nothing against you. Like we say, we don't have a lot of them or there are not many of them. Any time -- if Alana's number are correct those are only the times that there are shootings during the actual school day. So that's not even talking about shootings that are happening at night or shootings that like they're hearing of because their friend may have gotten shot or shot at somewhere else in the city.
WEEDENSo I think that we have gotten to a place in the city where it is so normalized, unfortunately that there's actually this very weird cycle that happens. That an incident happens, someone tweets about it and says, oh, no, we should be outraged. Someone else tweets back, but no one's outraged. And then we go back to our normal state. When that shooting happened at Savoy, I was in the building. Thurgood Marshall is connected to Savoy. I was in the building that day. And hearing afterwards just like how normal it is for us to know about a young person, who was murdered who was carrying a baby right outside of a school door. It's terrifying.
WEEDENAnd to hear the response from some of our city and community leaders like, well, there's no outrage and there's no -- like no one is marching about this. It's like well at some point the desensitization comes and the response from our city leaders and our community leaders in not saying anything.
NNAMDIGot two calls that are related to that. Let's start with Anita in southeast Washington. Anita, your turn.
ANITAHi. Good afternoon, Kojo. Thanks for having me. I was just listening and like you all say, it is beginning to be normal. I'm 40 years old. I grew up in southeast. I used to go to Ballou, Kramer, all the, you know, bad schools. They hang outside. They start shooting, I mean, everybody runs and then it becomes normal for someone to hear that shooting. And I'm thinking like -- because I'm old I'm like, that's what you hear in a war. It's like we're in a war zone. What are our councilmembers going to do? These kids are not safe. In the neighborhoods it's not safe.
ANITAI don't have my children go outside and play outside. And if I'm with them, I'll take to a recreation center. It's not like they can go outside. Oh yes, you know, throw the football around, play around. No, they can't do that, because I don't want my kids getting hurt. It's just normal, like the gentleman said, we need to start marching. We need to get together and make our councilmembers do what they're supposed to do. Have the police go around more. Don't have these people hanging out on the street. When they're loitering all in front of these liquor stores in front of these corner stores, that's when things happen.
NNAMDIOkay, Anita, thank you very much for your call. There's been reports of one of the Mystics basketball players, who says that she will not be talking about anything else until this problem is addressed. And Mayor Bowser says she's going to try to make time to talk to the basketball player. But, Alana Wise, do you know what the city might be doing about this, the Council and the mayor?
WISEWell, so there have been a few different proposals put forward including safe passage as well as a number of community groups that have tried to get involved, Turn Around for Children and different programs that try to, A, educate people about the problem that's happening, educate people about the times when children are outside. But one thing that I've heard from people, again, in the course of reporting, is that people feel that it needs to come from the top and trickle down a bit.
WISEPeople do want more involvement from the mayor. People do want more involvement from councilmembers, and they also want leaders in the community who maybe aren’t in positions of elections -- in elected positions, but are in positions of power in their communities to get involved and say, hey, there are children involved in this. There's something we need to be doing. As Raymond said, this isn’t something that we should normalize.
WISEAnd that's something that we've heard a lot, and that even as the caller just mentioned, there are people who I spoke to who said that they won't send their children outside. A number of principals I spoke to said that they are very deliberate about putting in place after-school programs, basketball and baseball and things where kids can have that kind of recreation in a safe environment. Because they know when they go home, their parents aren't going to let them play outside, for these exact fears.
NNAMDIOn, now. Anita, thank you for your call. To Barbara, in Gaithersburg. Barbara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARBARAHello, Kojo, and your members there. I am just with Anita. I work in a school in McLean, and we do not have any lockdowns except for the one -- the annual practice. And I am really very emotional and very upset that we don't hear -- and when I say "we," I'm talking about American citizens. Why don't we hear about these shootings? We only hear about the mass shootings. If we were to take all of the inner-city shootings, I mean, the gun control -- we have got to have more gun control.
BARBARAAnd this is -- I mean, I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm outraged at the nonchalance of this, at the insensitivity. I think Cory Booker talks about it. You know, he lives in Newark, in the inner city. We need to put light on that this is happening. And what Anita says, it's almost like we think it's normal. Oh, you live in the inner city? Well, there's going to be some shootings. I really am outraged by this, that we don't hear about it in the public.
NNAMDIAlana Wise, is this why Guns in America decided to address this issue? Because we hear a great deal about mass shootings at schools. When we conducted that Kojo Roadshow last year is when we really began to hear from young people themselves about shootings that go on near schools, and how they are affected by them.
WISESo, that's exactly why we undertook this project, my colleagues and I. A lot of the times when we're doing reporting, we all see when there's something big that happens, as it should happen. When there's something big that happens, like the shooting at Parkland or the Newtown shooting, there is this mass of public attention. There is this public outcry and outrage, but very often, as we've found -- me and there are an additional nine other fellows based in cities like mine -- and what we hear often is that there are these instances of massive bloodshed happening over the course of a year, or over a month, and there really isn’t quite the same attention paid to it.
WISEWhich, on the one hand, is understandable when there's something that happens within a school. It's shocking, there are children involved. But one thing that we did notice, and that was illuminated over the course of this reporting, is that there are things like this happening just outside school doors all the time, where children are also playing, where children can see it.
WISEWhere parents and faculty are also being affected by this. They know their children are in danger. They know they themselves are in danger. Max Little, who we just spoke with on the phone, when I spoke to him, he said that even during pick-up and drop-off time, the parents and the teachers are both themselves terrified. You're looking over your shoulders, because you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know what could happen, based on what you've seen happen in the past, based on what you know happened yesterday in the same neighborhood.
NNAMDII'd like to bring Althea Holford into this conversation. Althea Holford is the managing director of KIPP DC, a major charter school chain. Althea Holford, thank you for joining us.
ALTHEA HOLFORDThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. What kind of issues do you see in kids who have been experiencing violence or trauma?
HOLFORDYeah, so one of the things that we want to do is to make sure that we create a safe experience for students every day. So, as many of your guests have mentioned, we make sure to have mental health practitioners there, because, as Raymond said really eloquently, kids express themselves in different ways. And we have a number of students from pre-K3 all the way to the 12th grade. And so you'll see things show up in different ways.
HOLFORDOne of the things we have done with our older students -- particularly our high school students -- is to make sure that they feel empowered and able to be a part of the conversation, and that they are actively working in their city to make sure that these things get better.
NNAMDIHow are KIPP schools helping kids with the stress and trauma that some are dealing with? What does that look like?
HOLFORDSo, what that looks like is we have mental health practitioners at each school and in each campus, so that we make sure that we have a holistic system for those students. We realize that students live -- you know, sometimes life is complex. Neighborhoods are tough. So, we want to make sure that they feel supported. So, what that will look like is if you come to one of our campuses, particularly on our lower grades, you'll see mental health practitioners throughout the day at our schools, as well as they're there are pick-up and at drop-off, to make sure that if anything happens to that student, either on the way to school or something may have happened before and they need someone to talk to, there is someone there to provide wraparound services.
NNAMDIWhat's known as a "trauma-informed method" to your teaching. Althea Holford, thank you so much for joining us.
HOLFORDThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlthea Holford is the managing director of KIPP DC, a major charter school chain. We will be taking a short break. When we come back, we will be continuing our conversation about the shootings near schools and the affect that it has on children in those schools. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about shootings near schools. Alana Wise, we heard Althea Holford talk about how they deal with it at KIPP DC. How many schools in the District are doing that, using what's known as a trauma-informed approach in their teaching?
WISESo, several schools that we spoke to actually called it by name, a trauma-informed teaching method. But many other schools, even if they aren't calling it that, many other teachers are taking it upon themselves to try to understand better exactly what their students are going through, and how it could impact their academic performance. We know, research has shown, that students who are perpetually exposed to these sorts of traumatic life events, this kind of trauma, have lower math scores, less proficient reading schools.
WISEAnd so what teachers and a lot of faculty and staff are doing is even taking it upon themselves to learn some of the training that goes into learning better how to interact with students who may be going through traumatic life events.
NNAMDIRaymond Weeden, you work with children at the elementary level. What disability tell kids during a lockdown? How do you make them feel safe again?
WEEDENWow. So, during a lockdown, the truth of the matter is that our kids have practiced this enough times that they get a sense as to what is happening. One of the great things about our teaching staff is that we look for people who have a loving and caring kind of affect. So, when things like this happen, the student knows that that person who is with them is going to take care of them. After the fact, we do a lot of work in trying to figure out -- like, there are some students that we know are going to react -- they're going to have more energy than they maybe had beforehand.
WEEDENSo, we want to make sure that we touch base with those students, whether it's our mental health team or the school leaders, or someone who, that person, that kid, is actually going to be able to identify with and help bring them back to a calmer state. Then we make a point of going out and making sure that our families know what happened and how they could respond. Over the last couple of years, we've increased the number of trainings that our staff has done in order to be a little bit more proactive.
WEEDENI think how Alana mentioned it, that when I first started teaching, the thing that we compensated for, the thing that responded for, to make sure you always had food in your room, because the kids may be hungry. Now, we're at the place where teachers are taking it upon themselves or organizations are taking it upon themselves to make sure that we are able to respond to this type of crisis, which is scary, when you think about it.
WEEDENI guess if there is any hope, that we will get to a place where we'll be able to do something different, is that like now, breakfast and pretty much lunch for many kids in the city is free. We figured it out as a society, as a community, that we need to take care of that. I just hope that we have a similar mindset into addressing some of the shootings that are happening. And also, the shooters, which I think many people demonize.
WEEDENBut people don't pick up a gun just because. They're picking up a gun because something else is going on, and those are our former students, at some point, too.
NNAMDIMegan McCormick, you spend a lot of time training parents and teachers to respond appropriately in these kinds of situations. What does fear do to a young person, particularly when it's near-constant? What does it mean for kids who then have to go to school and focus on their education, and then they hear gunshots?
MCCORMICKYeah, that's a good question. I mean, as I mentioned, this is something that involves more than just how kids are feeling or processing their emotions. Even if a child is not aware if they've seemingly become desensitized, their body and their brain are still using a part of their system that is driven towards survival, and that system can't operate at the same time as the parts of our brains we need to learn.
MCCORMICKAgain, trauma, it strips us of our feeling of safety, control, predictability. That's the biggest thing about trauma and chronic adversity. So, what we do at the Center for Well-Being in School Environments is we work with schools -- and we're in about 35 schools on a weekly basis -- to understand that it has to go beyond the mental health professionals in the building. This is something that, Raymond, you guys were just alluding to.
MCCORMICKWe know that if a child meets criteria for PTSD, they need to be seen by a mental health professional and receive evidence-based therapy for that. But the job of validating a child's fears and re-instilling a sense of control and safety is everyone's responsibility. So, we teach very brain-based strategies to teachers, to parents, people who aren't mental health professionals, so they can very quickly and very efficiently restore a child's sense of safety and build a relationship where they feel that they can trust and feel safe.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Iliana, who says, "Why do we ignore the elephant in the room? We run inner-city schools just like suburban schools, and while we talk here about the effects on kids and PTSD, we never acknowledge this to the kids, and we never teach them ways to cope." And that's precisely what Dr. Megan McCormick and her team are doing at this point.
NNAMDIAll right, let me go to the phones. Here now is Barbara in Arlington, Virginia. Barbara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARBARAHi, Kojo. Thank you for a fantastic show, and thank you to all the mental health professionals and school service folks who are working to strengthen and make our kids more resilient. I teach peace education at American University, and I work with a lot of nonviolence programs in the D.C. schools, after-schools, and summer camps. One of them is Little Friends of Peace. So, they're trying to get out in front of violence and teach kids to respond to violence with skills, so we're not dealing with the fallout and the mental health issues, but rather that kids are organizing nonviolently to identify the crisis in their communities, and organize around that.
BARBARAAnother wonderful group beyond Little Friends of Peace is PeaceJam, started by Bishop Tutu. They're now all over the world, and they're going to be arriving in the D.C. schools this fall. Again, the kids are organizing, learning skills, building coalitions, and they're addressing the violence before it arises. And they're working with Nobel Peace Prize winners to develop strategies and change the conditions that give rise to violence in the first place.
BARBARAAnd I thought maybe your guests could comment on that a little bit, that mental health professionals and peace educators, nonviolent activists, need to form coalitions to stop this at its source.
MCCORMICKYeah, absolutely. Any efforts that people can make to attack this issue at every angle is something that's it's going to take. Again, mental health is just one aspect of this, but it's not going to solve the whole problem. The best way to respond to trauma is actually to get ahead of it, to be proactive, to be preventative, and this is where we sometimes fall short as a community. So, yeah, absolutely, we support any kind of partnerships, and we work with lots of different types of organizations throughout the D.C. community just to try to get guns off the street, to get people coping more effectively, to get people oriented towards peace.
NNAMDIBarbara, thank you for your call. Raymond Weeden, let's talk for a moment about getting to and from school. The district has an initiative that Alana mentioned known as Safe Passage, focused on this issue. But many feel it hasn't translated into enough actual policy initiatives. What are you doing at DC Prep to ensure passage or safe passage to and from school?
WEEDENSo, we're part of the group that's been working the last couple months on Safe Passage and Safe Passage working group with a lot of the city leaders, but also what I am most proud of is some of the work that KIPP has led in making sure that student voice is part of that. So, I know Thurgood Marshall, at one of those panels, and essentially what we wanted to do is figure out, like, adults generally think we know what is best, but often, we are wrong.
WEEDENSo, actually spending time with students and having us lead those conversations -- I don't know if you were in those, Jenaia, were you?
NNAMDIYes, Jenaia is...
NNAMDI...involved with a student-led organization called Pathways to Power, which promotes safe passage to school. Now first, for our listeners who are unfamiliar, what is Pathways to Power?
MAGRUDERWell, it's a group led by students like youth in our school, and we started by the loss of two of our peers that -- their lives was lost to gun violence: Zaire Kelly and Paris Brown. We try to make conversations about how we can make our community better and different topics like violence, crime, and mental health and stuff. And we just try to get a youth voice and a youth opinion on things, because it's mainly affecting us as the youth. So, we just try to spread awareness, and try to make change as much as we can in our community.
NNAMDIWhat motivated you to become involved in this student-led initiative?
MAGRUDERWell, although gun violence hasn't really affected me personally in my personal life, but it's affecting lots of my peers and just a lot of people in our community. And I feel as if my voice and any other youth's voice can change something in our community, I think that'd be great. Because it's not -- the things that are happening in our community shouldn't be normalized, and shouldn't be made like this is what should just be happening. I feel as if people should be able to walk outside their homes and be safe, no matter where they are.
WEEDENAnd I'll say one of the things that the students have done is actually pivoted how we thought about safe passage. So, one of the things that was done last week through the mayor's Education Office is that they made sure that there were people available in the last week of school to be at metro stations to help students get to and from a little bit safer. Because sometimes, the end of the school year is a little bit more active.
WEEDENAnd then same thing with the mayor's Youth Employment. They're going to make sure there are adults there to help with those transitions. That was a suggestion that came from the students. It was something that was able to be implemented right away.
NNAMDIBill in Frederick, Maryland has a related comment. Bill, your turn.
BILLYeah, so thanks to everyone for the work you're doing on behalf of the safety of our sons, daughters, and families. I moved here several years ago from Colorado, and my son's elementary school participated in a volunteer program. I believe it's an organization called Watch DOGS., and the DOGS acronym is "dads of great students." And the program trained dads to volunteer to come into the schools and serve as an extra set of eyes and ears during the day, and also as mentors to the students.
BILLAnd the students absolutely loved having the parent dads there throughout the day. They got very excited about it. And I'm curious to hear what your panel has to say as far as thoughts about the potential for enacting such a program in our region.
WEEDENSo, we have a program like that right now. So, Dr. Marco Clark at Richard Wright Public Charter School has a program, Man the Block, and they are in the process of training community leaders to help with dismissal and the safety of students around their school, which is around Barracks Row. They realized that there are many people in the neighborhood who want to help. Sometimes they just need to be trained on how to do that work well.
WEEDENSimilarly, we have -- I think it was Center City has done an interesting program where they do what's called a moving school bus. So, the principal takes it upon herself to figure out all the kids who need to get to the Metro station. They walk down as a group, and then along the way, she's talking to members of the community, inviting them to become part of that. So, there is some work that schools need to do in terms of breaking down some barriers that we have put up over the last who knows number of years to welcome the community back into the work that we're doing.
NNAMDIHere's Connor, in Arlington, Virginia. Connor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CONNORHi. So, a few years back, when I was in middle school, about a decade, there was a shooting outside of it, of an unrelated crime, a bank robbery. And the individual fled, and students -- including myself -- were able to see what happened outside of some of the windows. And afterwards, it did not really seem as if the school was trying to aid the students, but rather shelter them from what actually happened.
CONNORMy question is: how has the paradigm switched in the past decade from sheltering kids to sort of informing them and letting them know how to deal with a truthful situation?
WISESo, one thing that we came across is that, a lot of times, what education stakeholders, principals and faculty are telling us is that they really do it on a case-by-case basis. If they've noticed that prior, when they said, "We're going under lockdown," kids would often get frightened. So, sometimes, those principals will tell students a different thing, like, oh, this is code yellow, or yellow stoplight, red stoplight, depending on the severity of the situation.
WISEOr if they know that there is a student who may have a particularly adverse reaction to hearing about something in particular, they may not tell them exactly what's going on, but they'll put them in a position with a faculty member, the librarian, someone who they trust, to kind of help them deescalate the situation for them personally. So, while that situation is something that did happen once, what we're talking about now is something that's happening a bit more frequently.
WISEThese students are hearing these sorts of things with relative frequency. So, what they're doing is taking it on a case-by-case approach, whether or not they're telling the students -- and it also depends on the students' age, and that kind of thing -- but whether or not they're telling the students the extent of what the lockdown is, as Jenaia said, maybe they'll get on the intercom and say we're going under a lockdown, or maybe the teachers will, through their apps or their communications among themselves, let them know that we're sheltering in place. It really just depends on the situation.
NNAMDIOnly have less than a minute left, Megan McCormick, but there's good reason to address the trauma and stress kids face, because kids do engage in risky behavior when faced with this kind of chronic stress. Raymond Weeden said some of these shooters might be our former students. Can you talk about that, briefly?
MCCORMICKYeah, absolutely. So, we know that there are lifetime consequences to being exposed to chronic stress and adversity, and it only takes three or four of those in your childhood to reprogram your brain a little bit, to where, again, you're going to have a heightened response, where even in situations that may be neutral or non-threatening, you might perceive a threat. You might also develop patterns of responding to that that are more aggressive. Again, it all makes sense in the context of what the person's experienced.
MCCORMICKWe sometimes forget that, as Raymond said, that there's a reason someone picks up a gun. So, if that goes untreated, not necessarily, again, by a mental health professional, but in just the response by caregivers, we can then create humans that are still looking for threat in places where it may not be, and then that leads to those behaviors. We all believe that people will do the right thing if they have enough resources, if they have the right things and their needs are met. But this is one situation where needs can go unmet for a long time.
NNAMDIMegan McCormick, Raymond Weeden, Alana Wise, and Jenaia Magruder, thank you all for joining us. Today's show on the effect of gun violence on children was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, amid a national measles outbreak, health officials in D.C. -- where vaccination rates are below what's considered safe -- are pushing parents to vaccinate their children. We'll dig into why parents refuse vaccinations, and the public health efforts to reverse that trend. It all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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