The weight of trauma on students
For students and teachers at St. James School in North Philadelphia, the epidemic of gun violence is all too real. It occurs outside the walls of the school in students' neighborhoods. When it does, students bring their trauma to school with them and need help to process it. Natasha Danielá de Lima McGlynn talks about her organization, the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, and how it works to make neighborhoods safer for these students.
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Long-term Impacts of Violence on Children
Gun violence in schools has been a staple in the minds of Americans ever since the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999. Since then, more than 320,000 students have experienced gun violence in schools, according to The Washington Post.
There have also been 304 school shootings since Columbine, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Sixty-nine of those tragedies took place in high schools, and behind that statistic are 24 school shootings happening in intermediate-level schools. Children and teachers alone have to worry about the potential threat of a school shooting each day when they start their respective days, which can affect children over time. With the frequency of these tragedies, the mental health of students is at risk.
“I do get afraid when I’m stepping outside because I could be the next person to get shot,” Journey Smith, a 4th-grade student at St. James’ School in Philadelphia, said.
Smith spoke about how she looks forward to what life has planned for her, not about how a child her age is being killed in her community.
Her story represents not only a lot of young Philadelphians but also young Americans who are susceptible to experiencing gun violence in their neighborhoods across the United States. According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, 65 percent of youth who are indirectly exposed to community gun violence, from hearing gunshots or witnessing a shooting, reported being extremely distressed.
A study done by Maya Rossin-Slater for the the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) found that students who experienced school shootings are more likely to have negatively-affected futures.
Results show that those students are more likely to be chronically absent from school and repeat a grade. They are also less likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, or earn a bachelor’s degree. Experiencing a school shooting can affect their financial success after their educational experience, as those who experience gun violence as a student are less likely to hold a job as young adults.
The threat of gun violence doesn’t just stop at school, as children have to deal with the threat in their communities. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), from 2011 to 2021, nearly 18,500 children ages 17 and younger died by firearm. From 2019 to 2021, the firearm death rate among children increased by 50 percent, which translates to seven children dying each day due to gun violence. The mental toll that this creates for children can be overwhelming.
“The connection between gun violence and mental health can be seen, but it is important to look at the two separately.” Dr. Colleen Lelli, the director of the Barbara and John Jordan Center for Children of Trauma and Domestic Violence Education, said.
She emphasized the importance of improving mental health as it pertains to both topics. Lelli also mentions adverse childhood experiences, which is a survey that looks into if a person has had any lingering trauma from their experiences. The survey found that some adverse childhood experiences included foster care, bullying, racism, and community violence, which can include gun violence.
One solution that Lelli offered is for the continued emphasis on community programs that help create better environments in affected neighborhoods.
“I think we have to look at how we can support the communities. A lot of times it's highly concentrated, community gun violence among a small number of people that are living in an underserved community. We have to talk about why those communities are underserved. We have to talk about how we can get them to the point where they're not underserved,” Lelli said.
There are programs like the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, which are on the ground trying to find different solutions to eliminate gun violence. The program assists people who have lost a loved one due to gun violence.
The mission of the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia is to reduce the entire cycle of violence by providing a wide range of services from support and counseling for victims and their families to rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of violence. The program began in 1980 when family members of homicide victims began the Philadelphia chapter of Parents of Murdered Victims, which in 2005 merged with the West/Southwest Victim Services to create the AVP. The partnership provides counseling services and hosts events for communities. This is all in the effort to practice and preach togetherness.
While there are positives, the Anti-Violence Partnership has had to navigate limitations over the course of its existence. Most recently with the pandemic affecting their financial flow for about a year, AVP worked hard to maintain the same level of care that the partnership was providing before the pandemic.
AVP’s programs coordinate with local communities affected by gun violence, focusing attention and resources on the individuals most at risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence. Dr. Kelly Moore, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, explains how these programs can be much more sustainable with the correct funding.
“Most of the programs on the ground are self-funded and need more help,” Moore said. “There has to be more of a financial effort to help support these people who are trying to make positive changes to their communities.”
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Troy "TJ" Scott
Violence not only occurs in and around primary and secondary school settings. It can cascade into college settings, too. This thread through students' educational experiences can lead to near-constant feelings of fear and anxiety.
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