The tragic events of Valentine’s Day have students across the nation asking, “How can I support the kids in Parkland, Florida?” Our Salinas Valley and Monterey County youth are no different. They are showing their concern, as well. So adults may be wondering how to offer reassurance, support, and encouragement as our children demonstrate courage and compassion for others in a universal effort to ensure safety in schools.
Students from Boronda Meadows School in Salinas have been creating artwork to send to students in Parkland, Florida to demonstrate solidarity and support. In an outpouring of caring and kindness, the messages from the students aren’t political or partisan. They are simply honest and heartfelt. “I am with you.” How can we as adults take our cue from our kids?
Yes, we are hurt, frustrated, and even angry that young lives have been taken yet again. I suggest we honor the feelings and honor the young lives lost by encouraging our own children to express themselves with positive messages of strength and resilience.
The students may hear about walkouts, marches, and protest gatherings. They may want to become involved, perhaps even organize demonstrations and events at their own school sites. Is it safer for our students to express their thoughts on the school grounds rather than off? Will these efforts focus on how to remain assertive rather than becoming aggressive? How can we help our young people develop their activist voices without inciting violence? If they organize an email or social media campaign, upload a YouTube video or create a blog, how will we help them shape a message of encouragement to public officials rather than resorting to judgement, the blame game, and character assassination? How will we allow ourselves and our children to feel our feelings while tempering our public speech?
Finally, as the students from Parkland have stated so clearly and eloquently, this is not a partisan issue; this is a safety issue. Let’s remind our own kids that we are committed to doing all we can to keep them safe at school. Let’s be honest that we are all still working out exactly how best to accomplish that. And then let’s ask them what they really want and need from us in order to feel secure at school. Do they want us to practice drills more often and build the fences higher? Do they want guards at the door checking ID’s? Or do they need the reassurance of routines (recess is still at 10:00, library is still on Wednesdays, and after school programs still give us a snack before homework time) and our even, measured presence to let them know that we are here for them at all times?
I’d like to suggest a few resources that may be helpful. The first is a book written by elementary students in Missouri and published by Scholastic. It’s called September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right. This is a great resource for kids of all ages, because it’s so genuine. And it talks about how keeping the routines of daily life helped kids feel a sense of normalcy and safety in a confusing and uncertain time.
Also please check out resources for adults and educators from the Publication Teaching Tolerance. There are resources at this site that address students’ desire to take positive action, teachers’ concerns about discussing mental health issues with students, and the power of youth activism.
And so in answer to the question, “How will we find the courage and the character to address the tough issues?”, I suggest we follow the lead of our children. Let’s join with them to send the message, “We are with you.”