Sitting here on a Monday morning, three days removed from yet another school shooting in America. Every time it happens, I have a reaction. This time, I can’t get it out of my head. What needs to happen in order for these tragedies to stop occurring? Personally, what can I do about it? What can we, in the afterschool world, add to the possible solutions? What do the kids need? What are they missing that is leading them to commit these horrific acts?
This will not be an argument about gun control, mental health, or some other factor. It is a question about what can we do in an afterschool setting to help stem the tide of violence at school.
What If we explore the idea of creating more afterschool programs for teens?
The prevailing thought in afterschool seems to be that programs are crucial for elementary students and that programs are beneficial, but not necessary, for secondary students. We need to recognize that secondary students are still kids. They may look like grown-up people and they are gaining new abilities to think and to process emotions and to navigate relationships, but they still need guidance and assistance in getting through the complex world we live in. A solid afterschool program may be just the place to help them develop the skills they will need throughout their lives.
What If we think about the problem at our local level?
It is often heard after an event like this “I didn’t think it could happen here.” We can’t do anything about what is happening in other places but we can be purposeful about what we do in our own setting. Stop thinking in a way that creates a narrative about them, out there where these things happen, and adopt the viewpoint of us, where we are all in this together.
We won’t ever get every kid. There is no way to reach all of them. We won’t stop all of the violence. We know that. However, we can make an effort to reach out to all of the students around us. You never know the impact your kind words or your invitation to be a part of something may have on a struggling student.
What If we are intentional about checking in with our students on a regular basis?
It is so easy to get caught up in the immediate work or in the routine of what we do. Be intentional about asking your kids how they are doing and what is happening with their lives. As adults, we need to listen to what our kids are saying and be aware of the things they may not be saying out loud. Active listening is a skill we can, and should, develop in ourselves. Practice it with your students. Check in with them often.
What If we are intentional about planting seeds of kindness and resilience in our students?
The pattern many of these heartbreaking incidents seem to have is that they are committed by young people who have been slighted or marginalized in some way. We have the opportunity in our afterschool program to weave social emotional learning through all that we do. Talk about the importance of kindness and empathy. Give students the tools to be resilient. Teach them to take a long-term view of their lives. Demonstrate kindness and resilience in your own life. On purpose, we must do everything we can to develop strong social emotional traits in our students.
Bill Milliken, founder of the dropout prevention organization Communities In Schools, holds the philosophy that, “It is relationships, not programs, that change children.” Afterschool programs can serve as the vehicles for caring adults to develop relationships with young people. This includes afterschool programs for secondary students.