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Students grapple with violence of Colo. shooting

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

In the wake of last week’s tragedy in Littleton,Colo., Truckee students have been venting opinions, concerns and grief and discussing with school counselors and staff ways to prevent violence from occurring in their schools.

After hearing that two students walked into Columbine High School carrying explosive bombs and opening fire with semi-automatic weapons, killing 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives, students questioned how it happened and if it could happen in their own schools.

Cindy Flores, the guidance counselor at Sierra Mountain Middle School, began visiting classes last week to open the discussion with students.

“Our kids are so perplexed over it. They focus on the ‘why’ rather than the gory details. We try to bring them to the point of ‘how did this happen,'” said Flores. “The kids can understand how someone can get to anger. They can’t understand how they get to rage.”

Flores talked with students about problems they face on their own campus and ways the students can help prevent anger from turning to rage.

“The biggest problem is teasing on this campus,”

said Flores. She said that on middle school campuses in the U.S. and Canada, eight percent of the students are bullies.

Middle school eighth-graders identified these problems on their campus, citing a recent hallway fight between the “anarchists” and the “jocks” that led to the cancellation of their eighth-grade dance.

“Sometimes it’s hard to talk because you feel like (others) might hate you later,” said eighth-grader Katy Monic. “Sometimes when you get teased so much you just want to explode.”

“Before you start making fun of someone you need to think of what you’re saying,” said fellow student Colby Leitch. “I think if you’re going to make fun of someone, you need to stop it cold your tracks.”

All students agreed that teasing was the biggest problem, and that some students were easy targets.

“Some of the kids at our school do look a little scary, but are actually really nice,” said Amy Stubblefilt.

Some middle school students favored more campus security; others said it was more important to talk things through.

“I think just talking about this and making sure we don’t have feelings of anger like those students helps us. I think we should work together,” said Kellie Wilson.

Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District prevention specialist Laurie Martin said the community as a whole needs to respond to the horror of the Littleton school shootings.

“I really think we need some more community dialogue. It’s important we are engaging with the kids in our community in every way we can,” said Martin. “Our community does really care, but it’s about putting that care to practice. We have to be sure that no kids fall through the cracks or become invisible.”

Martin identified three simple ways students, parents, teachers, and anyone in the community can help identify youth that are angry or in pain: tell someone if you know someone is angry or in rage; think about what you say and how it will affect others; include those who are left out.

“This really applies across the board. We are all out there interacting with our youth in a variety of ways. We are all responsible for carrying these three things out in our community,” she said. “I think safety is really about students feeling included and engaged in their schools.”

TTUSD superintendent Pat Gemma asked school principals in a monthly administrators’ meeting Tuesday what each school was doing in response to the Colorado shootings. Martin, who was also present, said that each school was addressing the issue to some extent based on the the need and that each site was responding in different ways. At the elementary level, school staff have been meeting with students from the third, fourth and fifth grade level, said Martin.

“Every school in the district should take this incident as a heads up,” said Gemma. He said that all schools need to work on crisis intervention, prevention and work with law enforcement agencies to ensure a quick response if crisis were to happen.

“We need to look at what we are already doing to keep ourselves aware of kids who are disconnected,” he said.

Flores, Martin and students said Truckee needs a better selection of activities available to its youth as a way to help prevent kids from feeling disconnected.

In a letter Flores sent home to middle school parents addressing the issue, she highlighted the importance of providing more activities in a community where athletics are so prevalent.

“We need more things for kids to do after school. We need a diverse array of activities that will connect everybody to something. We have a strong athletic program, but we need options for the non-athlete,” she wrote.

Students at Tahoe-Truckee High School have been talking in classes about what they can do to help include students who may be feeling left out. Student leaders said TTHS needs more activities for all of the different groups so no one group is isolated. Through brainstorming, they came up with different activities they can offer. Ideas included a skate park, table tennis and pep rallies that address various things and not just athletics.

They also expressed great concern for younger students at the middle and elementary school level. They hope to go those schools more often to talk with them on a regular basis.

High school students expressed their concern over the Colorado incident in a variety of ways:

“We were at a leadership conference and I started crying when I heard. My best friend just moved to Colorado this summer so it really hit home,” said junior Shannon Russ.

“When I found out I was just so shocked. It made me so sad and upset and it turned to fear. We do feel protected here, but so did (the students in Littleton). It brought it home. Now if I see someone in the halls I make a point to smile or say, ‘hi’,” said senior Jana Bergen.

“It made me think of how I treat people. Now I just try to be nicer, in better moods toward other people,” said sophomore Brian Kendrick. “Metal detectors would make me feel more unsafe. It would be like saying our school needs them and is dangerous.”

“I thought about college,” said senior Dawn Vanscoy. “If this can happen at high school, what about college where there’s more people?”

According to Martin, besides working on prevention for potential school violence, it’s important to recognize the intervention piece.

“What happens when we know we have a troubled kid? When we do see kids in trouble, we do have services for them,” she said. “There are good resources. We have a lot available to the community on intervention.”

School site counseling, mental health counseling through Truckee Group and Individual Family counseling (TGIF), Sierra Family Services are a few of the agencies available for youth in trouble and their families. Martin also mentioned the Special Multi-discipline Assessment and Referral team (SMART) which helps kids and families who still need help even though they are already involved with different agencies.

Martin also stressed the importance of parents communicating with their children.

“The parent communication piece is so important,” said Martin. “You don’t want kids to be fearful, but you really want them to know what happened. We need to start at an earlier age talking to our kids about important things.”

Martin will lead a parent information night at SMMS on May 3 from 7-8:30 p.m., entitled, “Are You an Askable Parent?” It will help parents to help kids feel they can ask questions and to open the lines of communications on a variety of issues, she said.


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