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Stopping school shootings

by Steve Schulz,


In the aftermath of the slayings on the campus of Virginia Tech, conversations on the radio and in coffee shops have again turned to the subject of school safety. How do we protect our kids from such an act?

Wadena-Deer Creek High School has no metal detectors at its entrances, nor armed guards at classroom doors, but it may be doing one of the best things it can to prevent such a tragedy: it is making sure lines of communication between students and staff are open.

"It's our goal that every single kid have an adult in this building they feel comfortable talking to," explained Principal Tim Bjorge.

Whether a child is lonely or suicidal needing help, or a student knows of another who needs to have someone reach out to him or her, the groundwork has been laid for students to talk about it.

"If [students] hear about a troubled peer or someone threatening to do harm to the school, we tell our kids they need to come forward," Bjorge said. "At the very least, tell your parents."

He said the school has to get the message to kids they're not being "snitches" by expressing concern about a classmate.

"So much of today's youth culture is you don't want to be a tattle-tale or a 'narc,'" Bjorge said.

Bjorge said other school defense systems, such as security guards and metal detectors, are ineffective in the event of a real emergency.

"Red Lake [High School, site of a school shooting] had an armed guard at the door," he pointed out.

The guard was the first one to be shot when a student went on a killing spree at the reservation high school.

Finding and helping the kids in trouble isn't easy, but it is the aim of Wadena-Deer Creek's program. Bjorge said the school passed out an advice book on topics such as suicide prevention.

"I think you need to remind students those things are avoidable and the school cares about them," he said.

One common denominator among shooters, from Columbine to Virginia Tech, was the students were described as "loners" or not connected to the school community.

Bjorge said we all remember being kids and there is always some degree of bullying, but "our expectations here are we treat people with respect and kindness."

Communicate that message, he said, and you'll make disaffected teens feel like they matter.

"Kids have to feel comfortable coming to school and their school is safe," Bjorge said, "and adults have their best interests in mind."