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Archive for Saturday, August 20, 2005

School fear

School can be demanding enough for youngsters without adding concerns about safety and security.

August 20, 2005

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People who were at Lawrence High School during those turbulent times around 1970 know the feeling of being fearful about going to school as a student or a parent patrolling the halls. Emotions ran high, a number of youths carried weapons of various kinds and many familiar with the situation consider it a near-miracle that terrible injuries and even deaths did not occur.

There was one occasion when faculty people locked themselves into an office until police could arrive. Racial tensions were thick enough to cut with knives, which were present, and the result was that a number of youngsters chose not to attend classes until the situation was more secure.

Fortunately, times have been much better for a great while. Although there are periodic disturbances and threats in our schools - as there almost always will be - conditions are nowhere near what they were in the bitter times of protests.

But things are not as good in many other communities. There seems to be growing fear in many a hallway and classroom. In USA Today this week, Alvin P. Sanoff wrote:

"The High School Survey of Student engagement finds that only 55 percent of students feel safe in school; those in cities are more likely to feel unsafe than those in rural areas, suburbs and small towns."

Survey director Martha McCarthy, a professor of education at Indiana University, calls the results from almost 81,000 students "appalling." "Students who do not feel secure are not attending to what we want them to: education."

Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals, says national studies show that schools are increasingly safe, as is the case in Lawrence's schools. Still, he adds, if students feel unsafe, "we have to figure out why." That has to be a key goal.

When asked about their schools' priorities, 41 percent of the students polled said there is "very much" emphasis on athletics, compared with 27 percent who said academic excellence was heavily emphasized. The academic-athletic conflict, of course, can be the subject of a wide range of non-related analyses. But first things first. If security is as big a concern for youngsters, and their families, it needs to be addressed initially or chaos could prevail in the classes and sports venues.

Then there is the growing tendency that sees teachers being forced to become more disciplinarians than tutors as the broken home syndrome becomes ever more prevalent and rebellious children act out. Bullies, too, can lead to a wide variety of disasters. When a youngster fears for his or her safety because of such people, terrible conditions result, as we have seen in our own region in recent times.

School work can be challenging enough for youngsters and every effort should be made to alter any trend that forces more pupils to include "fear for my safety" on their list of daily concerns.

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