“Losing School” – Lessons to Remember on an Important Anniversary
Remembering Red Lake: Missy Dodds, Former Teacher and Survivor of the Red Lake High School Tragedy, Remembers 3.21.05
This past week has been a roller coaster. On Monday, I sent my kids to school. By Wednesday, they were home–likely for the rest of the school year. When I picked them up from school on Tuesday, I was sad. I empathized with the teachers and staff as they said goodbye to their students, not knowing when they might see them again. My heart hurt for teachers who did not get to finish the school year as they had planned. My eyes welled with tears as I heard my own kids say to their friends, “See you in eight days.” I have not found the guts to tell my kids it will be longer than eight days.
My heart truly hurts for all teachers, students, and families as schools shut down across America. I know the feeling of “losing school.” It’s not easy when the place that is the center of your world –school– is ripped away without any notice. It’s painful and unfair.
Fifteen years ago this week, Monday, March 21, 2005, my world was ripped apart. A former student shot his way into my classroom at Red Lake High School. He killed five of my students and a co-worker, wounded four students, and left the rest of us with scars yet to heal. I know the feelings of having one’s world shattered in seconds. We “lost school” as we knew it.
Fifteen years later; we, the survivors and the community, are still adjusting to our new normal. We are walking a path never imagined.
The same is true for students and teachers across the country today.
I have found myself struggling with the same questions this week as I have the past 15 years: Who? How? Why? What? When? In today’s COVID-19 crisis, the answers can be framed with science. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of a school shooting, the answers are not as simple. Like many mass shooters, my former student fell through the cracks. This does not excuse his actions. Instead, it reveals that mental health is a huge component in school safety. The significance of mental health in schools can no longer be overlooked.
I see this as my own kids adjust to their new normal right now. I see the impact of “losing school” on their mental health. I see frustration and anger in my 1 st graders. The center of their world is gone for now. I see my 3 rd grader struggle with the loss of her social community. I see how my children’s mental health depends on school.
If there is anything we have learned as a nation this week, it is the importance of schools. Our schools are the heart and soul of our communities. They provide far more than education to our children. They provide food, friends, structure, and purpose. Our schools support our families. Our schools are the pillars of our communities.
Today’s COVID-19 closures are temporary. Normal school life will resume. When it does, I ask you to remember and advocate for the mental health supports that our schools provide. Please support your school’s mental health programming, staffing, and advocacy for all students. Like me, and like my Red Lake school community, all too many others know how mental health matters. When it comes to the safety of our schools and communities, our ability to meet the mental needs of our students and families can make all the difference.
Missy Dodds is a former high school math teacher and school safety advocate. She is a survivor of the Red Lake High School shooting. Missy serves as a National Parent Ambassador for Safe and Sound Schools. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org and her Twitter @DoddsMissy.