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Staying Safe in High School

Three years ago, Kip Kinkel shot and killed two fellow students at Thurston High School in Springfield, Illinois, after murdering his parents. And who can forget the brutal bloodbath of Columbine High School a year later, in which 12 students and a teacher from Columbine, Colorado, were killed? More recently, the rampage at Santee, California's Santana High School didn't end until two students died after a sudden shooting spree, followed by a similar incident at Granite Hills High School, San Diego, California, shortly thereafter.

Have today's high schools become common ground for senseless injuries and murderous rampages? Are there no outlets other than death-threats and violence for teens to express their anger, frustration, and disappointment? What happened to the days of heading to school with confidence and peace of mind? At worst, there would be a phone call or note sent home that some student smuggled in a flask of alcohol-laced fruit punch.

Today, however, there seems to be a different, more dangerous kind of 'smuggling' going on. Some teens are coming to school with guns, knives, and even bombs or threats thereof, creating a tense atmosphere for all. As a result, many students from across the nation say that their high schools have become more like fortresses -- even prisons -- as opposed to places to learn and grow, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

"In New York City, a lot of schools have metal detectors now," says Anne Kessler, associate supervisor of school security for the New York Police Department School Safety Division in Manhattan. "It's a very good deterrent."

After all, informs Kessler, if there's a bomb-threat or rumor of forthcoming violence, it's taken very seriously. "School administrators take steps to ensure the safety of the students," she explains. Kessler says that although it's unfortunate that many schools have to resort to this level of security, it's become a necessary safety measure. "A school is a student's home away from home, and we need to keep it as safe as possible," she emphasizes. "Kids feel comfortable with these gadgets."

While metal detectors, alarms, video cameras, and yes, even hallway patrol guards may seem like things you'd expect to see in a Sylvester Stallone movie rather than a high school, security measures such as these are becoming more and more common. "Prior to Columbine, most schools addressed safety with discipline, prevention, intervention, and school climate issues," says Ken Trump, president and CEO of National School Safety and Security Services.

These days, however, most schools utilize even more security and crisis preparedness strategies in order to achieve a more balanced approach to school safety, Trump explains. "The key thing that we stress to educators, students, and parents is that we want them to go to school aware and prepared, not scared," he says.

Trump's not the only one who feels this way. Many school officials seem to agree that early intervention and prevention are key to stopping school violence. Most feel an early push in the right direction can place a potentially troubled child on a path to success -- academically and otherwise.

"Early success in school serves as a buffer against all kinds of bad things that may happen later in a child's life," says Hill Walker, co-director of the University of Oregon's Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior. Meaning, the more into school you are, the better adjusted you'll be, Walker believes. The bad things to which he's referring include acting out violently against peers, parents or teachers, using drugs, dropping out of school, disobeying authority figures, and engaging in other antisocial behaviors.

You're not the only one who must try your best to remain unaffected, say experts. Schools have a big responsibility, too. Jeff Sprague, co-director of the IVDB and author of a report released last March called How Safe Are Oregon Schools, adds, "[There are] a number of measures schools can take to create safer environments for learning." Among his suggestions: Improve school security and implement measures to discourage bullying and harassing behavior, traits that often lead to violence. "Early intervention and prevention are key to stopping school violence."

Stay-Safe-Now Strategies

  • Report to school administrators or a teacher any knowledge of a crime about to happen or in progress.

  • Travel in groups before and after school, if possible.

  • Avoid confrontations in the hallways.

  • Go to class. If you're in bio', you most likely won't get mixed up in truant trouble.

  • Take every threat of violence seriously.

  • Think before acting out.

  • Talk to someone -- anyone -- about your feelings.

  • Keep the lines of communication with others open.

  • Create a relationship between a school liaison and a local city police officer.

  • Request that your school form a Safety Committee of parents and students.

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