3 Hickman Mills students were shot and killed this year. How will the community respond?

Five students in the Hickman Mills School District have been fatally shot or injured by gunfire since 2016.

At least three students were shot and killed this year alone, including 9-year-old Dominic Young Jr. On Dec. 4, 16-year-old Marquise Ellinburg was found with gunshot wounds outside a home on Corrington Avenue. He later died at a hospital.

Violence has taken a serious toll on the Hickman Mills School District. But the trauma affects the entire community. School officials can only do so much to support students and their families. It takes a broad-based effort to deal with the far-reaching consequences of violent crime.

School district officials have implemented services to address trauma and conflict resolution in an effort to help students cope with the loss of a classmate or family member and prevent future violence.

“It’s heartbreaking the stories that you hear,” said Leslie Washington, student services specialist for Hickman Mills. “But it also reemphasizes we have to continue to work.”

Programs such as Trauma Smart are a start. Administered by Saint Luke’s Crittenton Children’s Center, the grief counseling initiative trains adults to spot the signs of trauma in schoolchildren. A $187,000 grant from Jackson County’s Children Services Fund jump-started Trauma Smart this year in Hickman Mills’ pre-K program and elementary schools. Expansion to secondary schools is the goal. But finances are tight. The private sector, City Hall and the philanthropic community must provide an urgently needed assist.

“We can’t do it by ourselves,” Washington said.

The Center for Conflict Resolution has worked with Hickman Mills’ Freshman Center and plans to work with students at Smith-Hale Middle School starting in January. But additional funds are needed for expansion beyond Smith-Hale.

“Everyone we talk to knows that teaching kids conflict resolution skills is a must,” said Annette Lantz, CRC executive director. “We’re losing kids to violence that could be avoided.”

The challenges facing this south Kansas City district — a high mobility rate, pockets of poverty, a lack of sustainable jobs — often lead to crime. Officials are struggling to address those issues.

Groups such as the South Kansas City Alliance play a major role in attracting economic development and more jobs to this distressed area. Education and economic stability reduce criminal activity. An approach similar to the Kansas City Police Department’s violence reduction initiative in Northeast Kansas City also could help. The coordinated effort dropped homicides in the area from 11 in 2017 to zero this year.

City leaders increasingly are focused on boosting struggling East Side neighborhoods, but they also should undertake similar efforts in south Kansas City. And private investment from companies such as Cerner Corp. could spur economic opportunity for people that need it most, said Kevin McManus, a Kansas City councilman and South Kansas City Alliance board member.

“If you get (public input and city investment) right then (private investment) comes,” McManus said.

Losing students to violent crime should be a wake-up call for the Hickman Mills School District and the community. What will Kansas City leaders do to keep kids safe?

It’s an important question that needs to be answered before another child dies.