School safety data shows guns in schools rare in NH, but on the rise

When Concord School psychologist Melissa Pazdon heard the news of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday night, she immediately emailed all of her school colleagues Christa McAuliffe, to prepare them for the next morning’s work.

Pazdon linked a resource sheet from the National Association of School Psychologists to best practices for talking to children about violence. Among the recommendations were “reaffirm safety”, “take time to talk” and “maintain a normal routine”.

“One of the most important things we can do is have the most normal school day possible, where everything is scheduled, routine and predictable and what they expect,” Pazdon said. “It doesn’t matter what day of the week or what is happening around them in this world.”

Following a school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children and two adults dead, local educators in New Hampshire have been working to respond to the grief, fear and anger at the tragedy within their own school communities, highlighting their schools’ safety measures and available mental health supports.

While New Hampshire is a safe state, school shootings like Texas have students, teachers, and parents wondering: Can this happen here? Instances of guns in schools, while still rare, are increasing in the state.

“It weighs heavily on all of us, and I think the most important thing in all of this is that it should. I worried people would be desensitized,” Pazdon said. “In education, we want to teach but we also want to help; you want to protect. You care for these little humans as if they were yours because they are yours for at least the year you are with them. It has been a very difficult week for all of us.

In the Merrimack Valley and Andover districts, Superintendent Mark MacLean said school counselors began planning ways to support students as soon as they heard about the Uvalde shooting to help them deal with the tragic news. That’s a lot to process.

“Students and employees in both districts are incredibly saddened and outraged by the situation,” MacLean said. “They are overwhelmed with grief and their thoughts are with those in Uvalde and beyond. Whenever events like this happen, it strikes a chord in the education community. People are eagerly awaiting legislative changes that will help end school violence.

Some school districts, including Franklin, Bow and Dunbarton, announced an increased police presence in schools on Wednesday, both for added safety and to further reassure students.

Anxiety escalated on Friday after the NH Department of Safety announced it was investigating “school shooter” signs found in the towns of Epsom, Barnstead and Pittsfield. Pazdon said she spent time on Friday sitting down with a school teacher Christa McAuliffe who had just learned that her children’s school was one of those closed while police investigated. on the signs.

While rates of gun possession and violence in New Hampshire public schools are low compared to other states, the number of incidents increased significantly in the 2020-21 school year. In 2020-21, one gun was reported at Nute Junior High School in Milton, one firearm incident involving multiple weapons was reported at Kennett High School in North Conway, and 11 reports of “other firearms,” ​​a category which includes BB guns and similar weapons, in various schools according to the New Hampshire Department of Education’s School Safety Data.

Also in 2020, there was a shooting at Second Start, a private nonprofit adult education organization in Concord, in which a student committed suicide after shooting a gun for the first time. on a staff member, according to a Concord police. report.

In comparison, the years 2015 through 2018 saw no firearms cases in New Hampshire public schools, while there were two “other firearms” cases during the school year. 2018-19 and two “other firearms” cases in the 2019-20 school. year.

First-degree assaults have also risen sharply, with 18 first-degree assaults reported in New Hampshire public schools in the 2020-21 school year, up from seven in 2019-20 and none from 2015-2018. increase occurred even during the pandemic when many schools were remote for long periods.

Pazdon said educators and parents can use different approaches to talking to children about a violent tragedy, depending on their age. While teens need to have an outlet to talk about the situation, Pazdon said that for students in kindergarten through second grade, it’s best to maintain a normal routine and not talk about it unless they’re upset. have questions, in which case educators should provide safety assurance. and validating feelings. She recommends not exposing children to media coverage of school shootings if possible.

For older elementary students, who are more likely to have seen the news or had conversations with their parents, teachers can address the topic more directly.

“That’s where our class teachers could start the day with a morning meeting and just check in with our kids,” Pazdon said. “And again go and reassure them of their safety, remind them why we are doing safety drills and re-emphasize that they are safe, that we are here to protect them and that is why we we practice these things because all they have to do is follow our direction.

New Hampshire was the first state to adopt the Jesse Lewis Choose Love social-emotional learning program, part of a national movement founded by Scarlett Lewis in memory of her 6-year-old son who died in the shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Lewis spoke at Concord High in November, where she discussed the importance of giving students the social and emotional tools to take care of their mental health.

In Kearsarge, Superintendent Winfried Feneberg and Assistant Superintendent Michael Bessette reminded community members in a letter Wednesday of the school’s safety measures, but added that the best prevention strategies are access to health services. mental and enough awareness to notice the warning signs.

“If you or your students believe you have encountered such information, please do not hesitate to contact local authorities, the school administrator or the guidance counselor to share your concerns,” Feneberg and Bessette wrote. “’See something, say something’ remains our best way to help others get the mental health supports they may need to prevent tragic events like this from happening in our schools.

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