- Student Life
Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Hearing the name of a school is supposed to elicit a rising of the heart, feelings of pride and nostalgia, flooding memories that warm us with faces from our past. But above are names that, when spoken, carry with them the sadness and disbelief of an entire nation of people who never walked their halls. In addition to the senseless destruction of human life, school shootings steal from communities the sense of pride and unity that comes from gathering together to pursue a beautiful human endeavor like learning.
In the past week, I have been asked a lot of questions that didn’t come up in my first year as principal: Do you think a school shooting could happen at St. James? Why do you think these things keep happening? What are we going to do?
These are hard questions. School shootings are so terrifying in large part because they are so unthinkable, so irrational, so inhumane. How does one get to the point where destroying as much human life as possible, especially the lives of children, becomes plausible? That is beyond my ability to comprehend.
Certainly, much progress has been made by schools and law enforcement in how to respond to an active shooter situation. At St. James, we moved away from a simple “lockdown” protocol several years ago to a “run, hide, fight” philosophy based on what the research and best practices have shown to be most effective. We teach our students that their only job in an active shooter situation is to stay alive; that means they should get out of the building if they can, and if they can’t they need to not only lock down but also arm themselves to present as much disruption to a potential aggressor as possible.
We have added cameras, a pinch-point entry with a buzzer system, and electronic locks with badge keys for staff so we can track who is in our building. We have a full-time School Resource Officer who last year went to every Academic Time classroom to train each student in the building how to respond to an active shooter; she will be training the freshmen this spring. We do regular drills where we review all protocols with students and staff; at least twice a year those drills are done with the Lenexa Police Department on campus (the most recent of which was this week) giving us feedback and practicing their response protocols as well.
But the fact of the matter is, while we have a duty and an obligation to have the best safety systems in place, these tragedies are rarely the result of bad safety practices.
It seems that our culture of isolation is at least a part of the story.
My last Rapp Up stirred more response from parents than perhaps any other. It seems many of us see the ways that smartphones, while powerful in their potential for good, can push us further apart from each other instead of bringing us together. Some researchers have found links between the use of technology and higher rates of mental health concerns. Others have written on what happens to teenage brains when they use social media and how it can impact their behavior. Technology is often one element in our culture that isolates us from reality, each other, and God. The other forces are too numerous to mention here; people point to everything from politics to parenting to city planning as causes for what ails our nation. To what degree these are involved is up for debate, but we know that when humans do not have community and authentic relationships, the effects can be devastating.
There are no easy answers to any of this. The only answer is a hard one: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (John 13:34).
The way Jesus loved us was the cross. He poured out His life so that He could save us, so that He could draw near to us through His Church and ultimately through the Eucharist. He entered into the darkness of our sin to bathe us in the light of His love.
And so we must do this for each other.
There are many who are hurting. The causes are manifold. People could be hurting because of choices they have made or choices made by others. They could be hurting because of chemical imbalances in their brain or because they’ve imbalanced their brains with chemicals. They could be hurting because of what they’ve put on social media or what others put on social media about them.
The reasons are not ultimately important. What’s important is that we know and love each other. What’s important is that when we see someone hurting, we walk with them, we ask if they’re okay, and if they’re not we connect them to those who can help, whether that be a parent, priest, counselor, or therapist. We ask the hard questions even when it’s uncomfortable, because the small pains of awkwardness or sadness we feel are but splinters of the cross that our Lord carried for us.
Continue to encourage your children to have eyes for each other, to notice those who may be hurting and either reach out to them or tell an adult they are concerned. This is not only the best safety measure we could ever take as a community, but it is also a central part of the mission of love that our God gave to us.
Our students do a remarkable job of that here. We have had many occasions in which students have shared concerns about another student’s wellbeing with one of our adults, and this has made a difference in many lives. We are grateful that there is a culture of trust and mutual concern here. Thank you for helping to create that. If there is anything we can do to continue building that, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
Let’s continue to pray for all those who are hurting, especially those in the Parkland community, that in the depth of their pain they may find the wounded hand of our Savior reaching for them.
Your brother in Christ,