Monday, May 24, 1999

Students' fears about violence aired in schools

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Teachers are supposed to know the answers. But even the most informed educator is having trouble explaining why students are killing each other in schools across the country.

        The latest incident, which left six students wounded Thursday in a shooting in Conyers, Ga., occurred one month after the Littleton, Colo., school massacre.

        With tightened security and heightened attention to school safety, some teachers are having to use class time to talk to students about school violence.

        Rhonda Allen-Harman, a Spanish teacher at Kings High School, said the topic has at times taken away from time she had planned to teach.

        “It's hard for me ... In fact, I can't make sense of it all,” she said. “I just want to be able to focus on doing my

        job. I want to be able to just teach them ... When there's all this other stuff going on, you have to address it.”

        Mrs. Allen-Harman said students mention the Columbine High School shooting almost daily. Since the spate of school shootings, Mrs. Allen-Harman said she pays closer attention to how students interact.

        “Normally, I would say kids crack on each other. Now I wonder ... How is this affecting them?”

        Just before lunch Thursday, students were talking in her class about the Georgia shooting. “They were just like, it never stops. Where does it stop?” she said.

        The day after the Littleton massacre, Fairfield Intermediate School teacher Sunny Walton gathered her students.

        “We can't go out there, but we can send our prayers and thoughts out there,” she told her fifth-grade special education students after explaining what happened. For the next few moments, the children were quiet.

        “We didn't glamorize anything. We didn't play up anything. We just told the facts,” Ms. Walton said. “We purposely didn't use the intercom. That tends to throw everybody into a whirl.”

        Ms. Walton said she was frightened, but “only from the standpoint that I know in my heart that a child who really wants to do this could. It can be accomplished. If a child wanted to wreak havoc, they can.

        “You can't make schools into fortresses and teach. There are only a few out there, but the few there are are very frightening and serious.”

        At Princeton Junior High School in Sharonville, students had the opportunity to talk about the Littleton shooting during a homeroom period.

        “It helped to allay a lot of the concern and relieve a bit of the anxiety by being able to discuss it in a setting such as that,” said Margaret Horton, who teaches seventh-grade English.

        But the discussions have not taken the place of instructional time.

        “I think teachers have had to use wide discretion in not letting it dominate what is the instructional time,” Mrs. Horton said. “We deal with issues during (homeroom) time, so they were accustomed to this.”

        Like their students, teachers were distressed by news of recent school shootings, but tried to keep their feelings to themselves.

        “Teachers, I feel, need to be role models for students,” said Mrs. Horton. “They realize the way they act does affect students. They are aware of that in the way they respond.”

        Mike D'Agostino, a Kings High School chemistry teacher, said he wants students to escape from their problems and concentrate on learning in his classroom.

        “Our job is to educate ... not necessarily to be there as a cop, as a parent or counselor,” he said. “Students are here to learn.”

        Students can bring up their concerns about school violence and other issues during their homeroom period, when teachers act as advisers, said Joyce Fleischer, also a chemistry teacher at Kings High.

        Springboro High School Principal Jack Poore said teachers and administrators try to assure students they're doing everything they can to make the school safe.

        Still, “kids want an escape from that,” he said. “There's a certain point in time when it does get to be way too much. They just don't want to hear anything else about it.”

        Bernie Mixon and Sue Kiesewetter contributed to this report.


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