“Back-To-School Essentials”… More like back-to-school protection

by Elizabeth Rajnik, Editor

It’s September 2. School starts in less than 24 hours. Parents and children rush into Walmart to purchase last-minute school supplies. Kids lay out their newly purchased outfits in preparation for the early school morning. Parents run around their house ensuring their children’s lunches are packed.

Making sure students have all their back-to-school essentials is crucial, but for many parents who fear the potential violence of the school-shooting epidemic, back-to-school essentials mean much more: protection.

For the parents of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, Santa Fe and many more high schools, protection is a reality.  Not the potential future; it’s the very real past.

Sandy Hook Promise is a national non-profit organization founded and led by several family members who lost loved ones in the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

Sandy Hook Promise’s mission is “To create a culture engaged in preventing shootings, violence, and other harmful acts in school.” The founders hope to use their mission to honor the victims of gun violence while turning their tragedy into “a moment of transformation.” 

I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create, healthier homes, schools and communities.”

— The Sandy Hook Promise

On September 17, Sandy Hook Promise released a Public Service Announcement called “Back-To-School Essentials.” The first scene features a young boy talking about his new backpack as he grabs it out of this locker. While the video content appears seemingly harmless, the mood quickly takes a turn for the worse.

As I watched the PSA for the first time, my stomach sank. Imagining being in this position, and understanding it’s reality in our society, is an extremely scary thought.

The two scenes that follow show a young girl flaunting her colorful folders and a boy talking about his new headphones, unaware of the commotion occurring behind them. As the video progresses, children continue to talk about their new school supplies, but rather than using them for their educational purposes, the school supplies become protective gear.

Two of the more graphic scenes show a young girl using her new socks to wrap a fellow classmate’s wound, and two students in art class using scissors and colored pencils to defend themselves.

The last scene shows a young girl crying in the bathroom. After texting “I love you mom,” she looks at the camera teary-.eyed and states, “I’m so glad I finally got a phone to stay in touch with my mom.” The PSA leaves the viewers devastated and horrified as the door to the bathroom creeks open, and an intruder enters.

The video cuts off to a black screen, giving the viewers a final message: “It’s back to school time and you know what that means. School shootings are preventable when you know the signs.”

The extremely graphic PSA has gathered mass amounts of attention from the public since its release. Sue Mouchantat, Operations Manager of Sandy Hook Promise, commented on the overwhelming outreach from the community, regarding the PSA. 

“We have been overwhelmed with requests from students… for personal interviews or help with providing background for student research and/or projects. We appreciate these requests and know they come from the heart. Because of the volume of these inquiries we are unable to follow up with them as we would like,” said Mouchantat.

Many of my peers were emotionally affected by the events on December 14, 2012, without having been present at the Sandy Hook Elementary. Junior, Sierra Rossman, is one of many who has vivid memories from this day. 

“I remember coming home from school and my mom being very upset. She embraced me as soon as I got off the bus, and I was extremely confused. She then explained vaguely what had happened and from that moment on, I was painfully aware of the horrors in the world. I was in elementary school at the time and believed that nothing like this could ever happen again, but I didn’t know how wrong I was,” said Rossman.

Even more than the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the fact that Sierra and I were in elementary school at the same time as the Sandy Hook disaster made it even more horrifying for both us, and our parents.

In partnership with the new PSA and its message to the public, Sandy Hook Promise offers multiple programs to the public called Know the Signs. These programs teach students and educators how to detect signs of at-risk behaviors to prevent school violence and shootings before they happen. The program offers 30-40 minute student training sessions that can be held in classroom or assembly settings. The Know the Signs programs include, Start with Hello, Say Something and Say Something: Anonymous Reporting System.   

Sandy Hook Promise also offers SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) Promise Programs, in hopes that students will continue to implement what they have learned from the Know the Signs programs into their school lives. The student-led organization receives tools and resources to plan events and activities to continue spreading the message of Sandy Hook Promise.         

We have plenty of PREP lessons about bullying and the common phrase of “see something, say something,” but we need to view this issue as a more urgent problem. As a member of the Student Voices, I find that this newly formed group would be a great way to do this.   

Student Voices is an extremely diverse group of students, consisting of not only a variety of kids at Linganore, but also students from many other high schools in the county. The goal of Student Voices is to break diversity barriers, and discuss issues in our community as a whole. This group offers a perfect opportunity for students in Frederick County to implement the teaches of Know the Signs.     

Coinciding with the information offered by Sandy Hook Promise on their website, the last tab labeled “Get the Facts,” lists 16 stastitics involving school violence. To name a few:

  • In 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it. 
  • The U.S. has had 1,316 school shootings since 1970 and these numbers are increasing.
  • 18% of school shootings have taken place since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.    

While many found the PSA to be very violent and upsetting, Sandy Hook Promise hopes to use the video in order to present the reality of the school-shooting epidemic.

I find that this PSA is a blatant reminder that no school is immune to violence. Anybody could be affected by the school-shooting epidemic, and while it is a horrible reminder, its extremely important that we are aware. Community awareness is crucial in order for everyone to take action. If we all Know the Signs, we can minimize the effect that the school-shooting epidemic has had on our country, and lead following generations of students into a positive direction.

If you haven’t joined the millions of Americans who have watched the “Back-To-School Essentials” PSA, I encourage you to do so. If the PSA impacted you as it did to me, I also encourage you to visit the Sandy Hook Promise website to learn more on how you can prevent school shootings before they happen.