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For most of us, even millennials like myself, we remember feeling a sense of security at school. We went to school, learned (hopefully), had sports practice, and then went home. Sure, I was bullied like every other kid who was a little chubbier than his doctor recommended, but there was never a permanent worry that school might get forcibly evacuated due to a robo-call, locked-down due to an un-identified person in the building, or worse. Today’s students face a drastically different reality. Emergency spending has skyrocketed and students have been introduced to the concept that they might have to “run, hide, or fight” as young as 6. Previously associated with fire drills, missing/sick students, or a fight breaking out in the cafeteria, the term “emergency” has come to be closely associated with large scale tragedy. In the face of these changes, it is more important than ever that 21st century students still have a sense of safety and security in school. Just like all important things in a child’s life, this starts at home.
It starts by having conversations with your children about why preparedness is important, but also about how (with some visible exceptions) America is safer now than it has been in decades. About how American media has been over-run with sensationalism, but that there is truth in the increasing frequency of emergencies in schools. More than anything, it starts with honesty. As someone with no children, I think back to how my own Mother handled discussing the more difficult aspects of life (I don’t mean the birds and the bees).
It has been relatively quickly forgotten outside of public health circles, but back in early 2009 Swine Flu was all anyone would talk about. Spurred by fears of a “super bug” and weeks of nearly constant media coverage, many people, especially parents of children, believed Armageddon was coming. Badly affected schools were cancelling classes and parents were holding their kids at home.
In the middle of this insanity, my mother woke me up a few minutes early to talk before I went to school. Being 15 I couldn’t have cared less, and honestly just wanted to go back to sleep, but I stayed awake to humor her. It wound up being one of the better decisions I made in high school. She asked me if I had heard about Swine Flu, and after a few grouchy back and forths, decided to skip straight the point lest I fall back asleep on her. She told me, “Marshall, this whole swine flu thing is scary and and I don’t really understand much about it, which is even scarier. Make sure to wash your hands, try not to get too close to people who look sick, and use your head. Stay smart, but most of all focus on having a good day in school and try to actually learn something please”.
“Stay smart, but most of all focus on having a good day in school and try to actually learn something please”
While it doesn’t seem like much, in that moment my mom did something incredibly difficult: she showed vulnerability. More than that, she showed me how to be strong when panicking and pulling me out class would have probably made her feel better. There was no mention of me missing class, nor scaring me into wearing a face mask (which people were actually doing). She made sure I knew that just because the threat was omnipresent and It could affect me without warning (sound familiar?), that I could take precaution without sacrificing what was important. Sure, the fact that half of my class was out sick was a little odd, but at the end of the day I focused on actually trying to learn something. Which I had not been doing before. In fact, a number of recent studies have confirmed what parents and teachers have known all along, students who feel safer learn better. As a society we need to be willing to have difficult conversations to remove the hysteria surrounding school emergencies and ensure 21st century students have a sense of safety and security in school. Just like all important things in life, this starts at home.