Emily George, LCSW, MS.Ed. is the School Social Worker at Girls Prep Lower East Side Middle School. Emily joined Public Prep in 2012. Emily's role focuses on supporting the social and emotional needs of students and their families in order to enhance academic success.
Impact of Trauma on Students/Student Activism
Just as I opened Microsoft Word to start this piece, sirens wail over our loudspeakers, “Attention! Attention! We are now in a Soft Lockdown.” I stop everything to lock my office door and turn off my lights, and then get under my desk with my computer. I anticipate the knock and door handle wiggle that always comes during these drills. And although I know it is a drill, my stomach turns, my breathing shallows, my mind races.
I think about our scholars as they do these drills. If I, the person whose primary job description is to address and support tough feelings, am scared, imagine how they feel. After lockdowns or hearing about school shootings in the media, scholars often inquire about their risk at school. It is so hard to not be able to 100% guarantee that their safe space is truly safe. While these drills are designed to practice if there is an active shooter or other threat within our school walls, I hear too many stories about the traumatic events that some of them have experienced outside of them.
On Wednesday, March 14th, Girls Prep LESMS participated in the National School Walk Out. We marched for school safety and reaffirmed that our scholars are the voices of our present AND our future. They have the power to make change in the world.
The rally was sparked by student interest. We wanted to ensure we could support them and get ahead of their advocacy. To get the event started, eighth grader Emani gave a stunning speech expressing her fear and insisting on safety for her community. As we joined hands in the playground, another eighth grade scholar, Joie, asked if she could start chants to unite our voices. These are the future leaders we are nourishing.
Following the march, we came together in advisories. Discussion sparked emotion for some who were triggered by the memories of deaths of friends and family, some of whom were the victims of gun violence. Some talked about hearing gunshots near their homes and how they are not allowed to hang out outside. While lockdowns are a safety practice within our school, safety is not guaranteed outside our walls.
In another conversation, a fifth grader spoke to me with concerns of the suggestion to arm teachers. She said, “Nobody deserves to have that power. By giving people guns, it’s just more of a threat.” She talked about how police have guns, and they don’t use them correctly, as they have shot a disproportionate amount of innocent people of color. We talked about the Black Lives Matter movement as preceding this movement from the students from Parkland, and how race seems to impact how voices are heard in public. This conversation was with a fifth grader. She is thinking this deeply about her safety and the impact of race and trauma on communities now. Imagine where she can be as an eighth grader and, further on, where she will be on her journey to and through college.
Our participation in the Walk Out was not intended to push any political agenda or values on our scholars. It was to give them the information, and then the option to decide if and how they participate. The discussions that followed clearly showed that, as we know, they already have so many thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the matter. Some have experienced their own trauma, and it impacts them each and every day. We must assure that they, too, know, along with the students of Parkland and Black Lives Matter, that they can take the traumas in their lives and make changes to prevent them in the future.