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Surviving School Tragedy

By Dave Arnold

This article marks a milestone for me. It’s the 200th article I have written for the National Education Association (NEA). When I realized that one day I might see my 200th article, I thought about it would be like, but my ideas have been greatly altered by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Certainly, everyone in our nation was shocked and sickened at the news of the deaths of the children and staff, and every school employee I know takes it very personally. 

Whether you are a teacher, administrator, or a fellow education support professional (ESP), a school tragedy is always personal. When you become a school employee you tend to think of the children of that school as “My kids,” the other employees as “My family,” and another school’s students and staff as “My friends.” The loss of any one of those is very personal, and one can’t help but think, “What if it had been here?”

Perhaps the only positive thing that can come out of such tragedies is that we look at what has taken place and work to prevent such incidents from occurring ever again. Immediately after the nation received the news from Newtown, everyone formed an opinion on how such incidents could be prevented. Most of the outcries I heard were focused on gun control, while some argued that better security measures should be taken--such as arming school employees. The bottom line is that we will never be able to fully prevent these tragedies, but we must do our best to minimize them.

When one mother asked me what our school was doing to guarantee that an act of violence wouldn’t take place here, I was very careful to explain to her that we were already doing everything that we could afford to do, “afford” being the optimum word. Yes, we could do much more if we had the money, but our schools are already suffering budget woes and using red ink.  I went on to explain to the lady that I believe the staff of our school, and every school, are truly the best security and best defense. I am personally acquainted with two former custodians from two separate school districts who wrestled weapons out of the hands of intruders in the school building. Those incidents never made any newspaper. That makes me wonder: how many more incidents have taken place that went unreported?

Every story coming out of the Newtown tragedy stressed that if it hadn’t been for the bravery of the staff, things could have been much worse. I told my questioner that a bus driver has always been the children’s primary guardian as they come to school, and when they arrive at school every staff member watches over the children and keeps an eye open for strangers on or near the grounds.  I ended our conversation by telling the mother that I could promise her if anyone intended to do harm to “My Kids,” they would have to get by me and the rest of the staff. I don’t know of a teacher, administrator, or ESP who doesn’t believe there is nothing on earth more important than each and every child.

Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. But most Association members know him best from the editorials he has written over the years for various NEA media properties since 2001.

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Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.