My heart is heavy. After learning about these recent suicides, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m sharing my story, but maybe I’m not sharing it with the people who need my help the most. If you haven’t been impacted by a shooting, it’s natural to wonder, how did this happen? Why didn’t they seek mental health resources? The answer is not so simple.
As a physically uninjured survivor from the Virginia Tech shooting, I’m often told that I’m lucky. “Lucky” totally resonates with me. I feel lucky that I walked out of Norris Hall on April 16, 2007 unharmed. But it is important to recognize that “lucky” doesn’t correspond to an easy recovery journey.
It feels very selfish to ask for mental health resources when others were killed or wounded. But the truth is, physically uninjured survivors need help. Often, we as physically uninjured survivors, are in denial that we need resources or recognition. We have trouble raising our hands and advocating for ourselves. After trauma, it is so difficult to see clearly.
The psychological impact from mass shootings is difficult to measure. It can’t be measured quantifiably, like the number of gun shots fired. The psychological impact from mass shootings is close to impossible to see. We can’t see mental health the same way we see physical wounds and injuries. Mental health is something we feel.
For many shooting survivors, the feeling of safety in public is stripped the instant the gun shots are fired. It usually takes years to rebuild. In the interim, it is replaced with terror, sadness, loneliness and self-doubt. Survivors have to figure out how to deal with these feelings while regaining a sense of safety. We have to deal with anniversaries that evoke intense emotion and bring back traumatic memories from the tragedy. The thought of “moving forward” can be overwhelming and feel impossible.
It is common for survivors to create hierarchies of pain in their minds. Individuals who lost family members at the top, followed by physically injured survivors. We put ourselves, physically uninjured survivors, at the bottom. We start to think we don’t need resources, because others are experiencing more pain than we are. We start to think we should just suck it up and move on.
But what we need is quite the opposite. We need to feel validated that something traumatic happened to us. We need therapy dogs to pet and shoulders to cry on. We need good listeners. We need each other – fellow survivors. We need our families and friends. It requires a village to get through recovery after a traumatic event. But so often, we don’t have that village. Most people will return to their daily routines and try to forget the horrific events of the past. But we as survivors, we will never forget.
By now, there are thousands of survivors of mass shootings, parents who lost loved ones, and law enforcement officers and medics who responded to these tragic events. These people may think for a long time that they weren’t impacted by the event. But while they may have escaped physical wounds, the mental wounds run deep. They may walk wounded for months, sometimes years, before realizing the impact the shooting had on them.
The most recent and public losses of survivors in Parkland and Sandy Hook remind us all that this road is long and it takes strong support and connectedness to survive the mental injuries of tragedy and loss. Our hearts and prayers are with these victims and their families today and always.
Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech survivor and Safe and Sound speaker
According to ED100, each year, we spend about 6,000 hours awake. Children will spend 1,000 of those hours in school not including after-school programs. National Poison Prevention Week, running from March 17-23, gives us a friendly reminder to discuss some of the hazards hidden in hallways of schools across the globe.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, close to 132,000 primary and secondary schools are still housing asbestos containing materials (AMCs). While some may feel asbestos is a problem of the past that does not affect students, many may feel differently after reading the following facts:
- Asbestos is a known carcinogen and was used abundantly and frequently in buildings like homes, offices, and schools until the 1980s. The majority of public and private school facilities across the nation were erected during the era of abundant asbestos use.
- There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. School districts are mandated to test for asbestos, however, if not at the “level deemed dangerous” no action to eliminate the hazard needs to be taken.
- In schools, asbestos is popularly found in ceilings and floor tiles, ventilation systems, caulking and adhesives, or sealants and insulation. Due to high foot traffic and building usage, the potential for ACMs decaying very high in schools. When these places become damaged, fibers are released and once inside the organs of the body, cancerous masses can form.
- Asbestos can remain in the air between 48 and 72 hours, and anyone in close proximity can be at risk for aggressive diseases associated with asbestos, like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls or PCBs refer to a number of chemicals that were banned in the United States in 1979. Although PCBs have been banned for many years, many materials used historically throughout school construction still contain various levels of these toxins. Here are some facts regarding PCBs and the dangers they still pose on society and our classrooms today:
- Many people strongly believe schools today are exposing building occupants to PCBs regularly. As buildings continue to age, the likelihood of exposure increases.
- PCBs have the ability to travel through the air for long periods of time and can be deposited in different areas outside of the original source.
- Exposure to PCBs in our schools affect students catastrophically including later developed cancer, developmental issues, hormone imbalances, weakened immune systems, and other organ damage.
- A school in New York was discovered to have hazardous amounts of PCBs in their window caulking and ground soil leading people to believe this toxin is more common in public structures than we might be aware of.
This National Poison Prevention Week, we encourage everyone to be more cognizant of the hazards that exist in the environments around you. A school is a safe haven where students, faculty and parents should all feel safe, and we should do all we can to ensure our school buildings are a healthy place for growth and learning.
Guest Author: Bridget Rooney is a communications specialist with Mesothelioma.com where she works to educate the public on the dangers of asbestos and other toxins found in the home.
Editor’s Note: This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them
In 2018, we conducted an in-depth look at perceptions that parents, educators, and students have on the state of school safety. We issued the results of that survey in the first-ever State of School Safety Report. We are so grateful to the nearly 3,000 people who participated in this research study. This national survey captured perceptions that school stakeholders have about school safety, including current frustrations, as well as opportunities for improving communication, taking a broader view of safety threats, and conducting outreach to more community members.
We heard from safety experts, advocates, government leaders, parents, educators, and students that this report helped broaden our understanding of school safety and provided a conversation tool for communities around the country.
For 2019, we are thrilled to once again embark on this important research, this time with support from students at faculty at Boston University College of Communication. They have broadened the research in some ways, and focused it in other ways. We aim to measure changes in perceptions and dive more deeply into specific areas.
We hope you will take a few minutes to complete the survey by Thursday, April 4. The survey can be found here: https://bostonu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6MdjpIDIdn2hlyZ.
Safe and Sound Schools will publish a report on the survey findings in the spring, and of course, we’ll share it with you here, first.
Please ask your friends, family, and school communities to take this survey as well. The more people who participate, the better, as we’ll have an even-more clear look at the state of school safety.
Thank you for being here for us… with us… doing what we can for our children today and tomorrow, in honor of those we lost in the past.
After months of preparations, the Safe and Sound Parent Council program training has officially begun! The Parent Council is an exclusive structured education program to empower and prepare participants to advocate for school safety with authority and credibility. With our first webinar session completed last week, we are now gearing up for a string of guest experts who will teach our Parent Council about each topic in our comprehensive school safety approach.
Brooke, one of our Parent Council members, explained how she has always wanted to get more involved in school safety, but wasn’t sure she could make a difference. She said, “ After the first session I couldn’t believe how my mind was swirling with thoughts on how I actually could make a difference. SASS presented school safety as so much more than just a topic but as a process and as an achievable goal with many avenues. I can’t wait to learn more!”
Next week we will be hearing from Dr. Todd Savage, a professor of school psychology and former president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Dr. Todd Savage will be teaching us about Culture, Climate, and Community. He will be presenting with Bill Modzeleski, a senior consultant with several groups specializing in school safety, threat assessment, emergency management, and homeland security. Bill recently retired after over 40 years of service at the Departments of Justice and Education and will be presenting on Law, Policy, and Finance.
We look forward to seeing all the amazing ideas from our fantastic group parents come to life as they work with school administrations to make their schools safe and sound. We are so grateful for this wonderful group of parents who understand that school safety is not one person’s responsibility – it is all of our responsibility.
Alissa Parker, Co-founder & Director of Safe and Sound Schools