Jenn Smith | Recess: Headlines show school safety anxieties - and search for solutions

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Editor's note: This column addresses issues of threats and trauma in schools. If you are experiencing anxiety, PTSD or emotional distress, please seek help from a trusted counselor. If you're a teen dealing with anxiety or emotional stress, visit teenline.org for helpful resources, or download the mobile app.

By Jenn Smith

The Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD — My last column regarding youth and equal pay yielded some great feedback from you readers. Some of you agreed that this topic isn't covered enough. Some of you felt that the wage gap doesn't exist. One reader suggested that the United States is "close to equal pay for equal work," but that society could "better provide equal opportunity for education and training for all."

I can promise you I'll address all of the above in some future columns and seek out some experts to get a better understanding of why this is.

In the meantime, let's continue the conversation about student safety and well-being by looking at some of our latest stories.

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Students brought up a recent lockdown incident during a presentation made last week to their School Committee about the need for more mental health services at Pittsfield High School. Incidents which result in a police response while students are kept in their classrooms and in the dark can be upsetting, to say the least.

Kudos to the school's Peace Jam club members, who took it upon themselves to conduct a student opinion survey that included 120 participants, and found that 73 percent feel there's not enough mental health support in the building.

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On Monday, local and state police patrolled the Berkshire Community College main campus in response to a possible threat of someone bringing a gun there. Firearms are prohibited there by state law. While college and law enforcement officials later debunked the credibility of the report, it was enough to put some people on edge because they felt they didn't know enough about what was going on in real time.

A woman named Sarah Engle posted to the college's Facebook page that she was in class when this was going on. "The protocol was pathetic," she wrote. "Even if it turns out to be a false threat or information our safety is more important than classes."

Meanwhile, each city school this week will receive a backpack containing so-called "trauma kits" thanks to a Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency grant awarded to the Pittsfield Fire, Police and Public Schools departments. Featuring products like tourniquets, blood clotting bandages and chest seals for entry and exit wounds, they're designed to help school personnel and students to perform triage in a worst-case emergency scenario.

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If you're still reading this column, I invite you to take a moment to pause, and take a deep breath.

There's a lot going on here, and it can feel scary. Not all is hopeless, but there is a clear disconnect between students and institutions, from students understanding safety protocols and resources to personnel and officials understanding what students of all ages need to feel safe and supported while learning.

"Your request here tonight is not really that different from the requests of most of the principals," Pittsfield Superintendent Jake McCandless told the student presenters as they called for more support.

A lot of conversations and even meaningful trauma-informed teacher training are happening, but they're happening in silos. Perhaps there's no better time than now to continue an open and frank conversation together. It doesn't cost money and could be time well-invested.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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