By Kara Thompson,
On May 24, a total of 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas after an armed teenager entered the school with an AR-15 and locked himself in a classroom with victims. He remained for over an hour.
Just 10 days before that on May 14, 10 Black people were killed at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., in a racist attack by a teenage gunman who spouted White supremacist ideology. He posted the racist manifesto online and live streamed part of the attack.
Following the first tragic shooting, Buffalo County School Interim Superintendent Tonja M. Williams ensured that the next school day started with a “safe space…for students and staff to speak with trained counselors, psychologists, and social workers.”
After Uvalde, she changed security measures.
Effective starting on May 25, “any person who wishes to enter a school MUST call ahead and obtain prior approval to entering the building.”
Many parents had already been fearful of sending their children to school, especially after social media threats named Buffalo County Schools (BPS) as targets of more potential attacks. The shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde only heightened fears.
“I thank you for this added level of security, I was not sending my child to school until I had clarification that something was being done” one parent commented on Twitter underneath Williams’ message on the added safety measures. “Good for BPS. Protect our children!” commented another.
Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District canceled school for the rest of the year for their students the night of the shooting on May 24. School counselors were available on campuses for those who needed them, and community counselors were at the Civic Center for Robb Elementary students, families, and staff.
In Buffalo, Black families especially are concerned for their children. The area surrounding Tops grocery store is predominately Black, and the store itself is the only Black-run grocery store in Buffalo, which made it a target for the gunman.
“We experience a heightened sense of trauma, perhaps fear, intimidation…when you are targeted because of your identity,” said Dr. Ramona Reynolds, Instructional Specialist III of the Office of Parent and Family Engagement, at the BPS Board Meeting on May 18.
Given that the massacre was racially motivated, some school resources are aiming to include race in the conversation. At City Honors School in Buffalo, Black administration and staff are planning a special “healing and dialogue” in early June specifically for their Black students.
Kevin Jones, a counselor with The Healthy Place in Washington, D.C., says providing help to students is “not as simple as it may seem.” Students may come from communities with lots of violence or come from broken homes. On top of all that, “schools are no longer a safe place as they used to be.”
“Mental health has to be at the forefront, but not just regular mental health—it needs to be exceedingly and abundantly above what the norm is,” he said. “Why? Because you need to recreate a safe place, need to create a community, and you also need to work on restoration for kids
] a place to go to where they can learn, and change the culture of the environment.”
The first step of that is recognizing what is needed in specific areas, and coming together as a community with a common goal of treatment and helping the kids, according to Jones.
“In order to stabilize the kids, in order for them to grow and rebuild, they have to feel not only comfortable, but they have to feel loved and secure in their environment,” said Jones.
As far as providing specific mental health resources to students, Jones said it is important to build a strong rapport with students individually, and then you can meet them wherever they are. Each kid is going to be different, and need different things, so it’s important to individualize the care.
The Buffalo County Schools website now contains a page for Family and Community Resources that residents can access easily. There are links to specific BPS resources, as well as links to general mental health supports, food resources, assistance in coping with collective traumas, how to talk about racism and the attack, and transportation services, to name a few.
The Office of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives for BPS has also created resources and lessons for grades K-12 titled “Healing and Resilience in the Days After” to assist teachers in talking to their students about the tragedies.
Uvalde CISD also has a page dedicated to counseling resources for the community. It gives addresses and phone numbers to several mental health service providers in the area. Resources are also being shared on the school district’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
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