Three days into this new school year, a team of grief counselors walked into East High School in Kansas City to provide support for students and staff members distraught over the shooting death of a classmate.
One week later, counselors descended on Southeast High School to help students and staff come to grips with the senseless murder of a popular junior at the school.
During the nine days after classes started Aug. 12, three Kansas City Public Schools students were shot, two of them fatally.
Incredibly — and indefensibly — Kansas City has reacted to this growing crisis with a collective shrug. Is it possible that our community could become inured, verging on indifferent, to teens and children being gunned down on our streets?
Seventeen-year-old Zavien Hall, a junior at Southeast, was fatally wounded in an Aug. 21 shooting after an argument outside a home on Cypress Avenue in Kansas City. His 7-year-old sister, a student at Kansas City’s Holiday Montessori School, was struck by six bullets but survived.
What would the public response be if these shootings had occurred in more affluent suburbs such as Blue Springs or Lee’s Summit? How would we react if three school-age kids in Johnson County had been shot? Or if students at private schools such as Rockhurst High School or St. Teresa’s Academy had their lives cut short by gun violence?
The silence in this scenario is unconscionable.
Gun violence has become a recurring nightmare for Kansas City Public Schools students. Last year, five former students and recent graduates were shot and killed. All were minorities. At least seven other students were injured by gunfire.
Jo’shawn and Zavien are just two of the 29 people between the ages of 17-24 who have died at the hands of another during this deadly year in Kansas City. Most of the victims were black males.
At least five children who were 16 or younger have been killed.
So, where do we even start?
Kansas City Public Schools officials are using data to implement services through a trauma-informed lens. Adverse childhood experiences impact student success indicators such as attendance, discipline and academic achievement, said Lateshia Woodley, the school district’s executive director of student support services.
The district is also developing a community school model that focuses on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement. These schools serve as a hub for the entire neighborhood and adapt to the needs of the community. No two are exactly alike.
Every school “has its own DNA,” Woodley said.
Model community-based schools can be found in New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New Haven, Connecticut, and Alexandria, Virginia. At those schools, attendance has improved, and children are actively involved in learning. They volunteer in their community, and family participation has increased.
In Kansas City, some partnerships are starting to take root, but not on a grand scale. There is so much more work to be done to keep our students safe, healthy and engaged in their education.
To address the immediate needs of students, school officials want to double the number of crisis counselors in the district from 12 this year to 24 next year.
Funding is needed, though, to tackle everything from the shortage of counselors to more ambitious initiatives such as the community school model. Kansas City Public Schools officials are not lacking for innovative ideas or strategies, but they are constrained by the limits of their budget.
To have a fighting chance at combating the scourge of gun violence that is seeping into the school district will require the entire community pulling in the same direction. When high school students are gunned down, we should be outraged. And then we should take action.
The not-my-school, not-my-neighborhood, not-my-problem response we’ve seen to the shooting deaths of Jo’shawn and Zavien is simply not acceptable.