In a world where kids are growing up hearing about one mass shooting after another, schools are taking on the job of preparing their students. There are lockdowns, active shooter drills, and now training programs to recognize and prevent threats.
This week, students at more than 1,100 schools and youth organizations across the country, including Stagg High School in south suburban Palos Hills, took part in “Say Something Week,” a series of workshops to train students to prevent gun-related crimes or suicides.
This is Stagg’s third year participating, and discussions turned to the recent massacre in Las Vegas, still fresh on students’ minds.
“It’s real. It’s happening,” said Stagg junior Maggie Gorman. “It’s not something that’s just like, ‘Oh it’s in a different place.’ But it can happen to anyone, anyone at anytime.”
The program was created by Sandy Hook Promise, the violence prevention group started by two parents who lost their first grade sons in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut five years ago. The group said it has trained more than two million teens and adults so far, including at Stagg and other schools in Chicago, Hazelcrest, Skokie, Willowbrook, and Aurora.
The group is still pushing for tighter gun control laws but says it’s tightly focused on trying to prevent violence before it happens
“We can do the most good and have the most sustainable impact by reaching children and community members in a nonpartisan way,” said Mark Barden, who founded Sandy Hook Promise after losing his 7-year-old son, Daniel.
The program trains students to recognize warning signs and to tell an adult. It could be as major as a student hiding a gun to a seemingly casual social media post.
They also get practical tips, such as taking note if someone keeps propping open an exit that is normally locked.
Stagg English teacher Amy Yeaman said the training has encouraged more students to speak up. She emphasizes to them that raising a red flag is not snitching.
“It seems rather hard to believe that nobody would ever know anything or see anything suspicious. And there’s very little risk in saying something,” she said. “That brings us back to the idea that if there’s a concern, what’s the worst-case scenario by letting someone else know?”
The school also set up a hotline for callers in case students want to be anonymous. Administrators said they usually see a spike in calls during “Say Something Week,” but the line is used year round. Any concern is addressed with the student in question and their parents, the school said. When necessary, law enforcement will be called to investigate.
Maggie said she has seen others put the training into action for something minor that could have turned into something bigger — two students planning a fight at lunchtime.
“Someone came forward and told one of the deans and they didn’t want to fight,” Maggie said. “They felt like they had to fight. So then by a student intervening and telling, not just snitching, a fight was avoided. So no injuries were caused.”
School administrators said there have been no real shooter threats at their school. But they said the training has helped in other important ways, like preventing suicides and bullying.
Just this week, a freshman quietly spoke up about a girl harming herself on the school bus. Because of that action, school administrators said they immediately intervened.
Susie An is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation.