Sunday, October 22, 2017

Say Something

“Kids are the eyes and ears of a society.” This is the message and focus that Nicole Hockley and other Sandy Hook parents bring to their anti-violence work in American schools through the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise (SHP). Last spring, SHP joined forces with the national student organization SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere). This month, the Chapel Hill High and East Chapel Hill High chapters of SAVE have been awarded $1,000 SHP/Allstate Foundation mini-grants to extend their peer education efforts to prevent suicides and violence in schools and communities. The first major initiative of the year was Say Something week, October 16-20, which overlapped with National Safe Schools Week.
Say Something Week was founded on the simple premise that a great deal of violence committed by young people toward others, or turned inward through suicides, could be prevented if their peers were more willing to step forward when they see or hear troubling signs. Three premises were shared over and over through the Say Something campaign: know the signs, take them seriously and tell a trusted adult.
“Teens don’t always know what to do if they see something is up,” said CHHS SAVE member Katie MacKinnon, “and hopefully we can provide resources for them to know how to properly say something and protect their peers.”
The statistics used in Say Something materials are startling and convincing - four out of five school shooters told at least one person about their intentions before taking action. Seventy percent of suicide victims spoke with their peers or posted warnings on social media. There is an average of nearly one school shooting per week in the U.S. and more than two million American students have suffered violence or crime at their schools. According to the SAVE website: youth between the ages of 12 and 19 are victims of crime twice as often as any adult age group in the United States...including the elderly.
As one Say Something slogan goes, “Saving a life is worth a broken promise,” emphasizing the crucial need to find a counselor, a teacher, a parent, with whom to share troubling concerns. SAVE Promise Clubs are student-created and led, but the adults involved highlight the unique roles that young people play in keeping their schools and communities safer. Jim Wise, SAVE adviser at CHHS, said that their club has traditionally focused on preparing for, and supporting, the Mock Crash as well as general youth safety, so joining forces with Sandy Hook Promise provides a flow of new resources and ideas.
The emphasis on building a culture of “looking out for one another” is one of the main reasons that several East SAVE members cited for joining the club this year. One student talked about the power of “all paying attention to each other.” Another said that even though she’s only been a member since September, she can tell that the club helps students feel less alone, and the club meetings give them more opportunities to interact with students of different ages or social groups.
At East this past week, the SAVE students, plus their adviser Shari Coveney, planned actions for all five days of the week, including handing out “I would be honored to be your Trusted Adult” signs for staff and encouraging students to sign a wall banner that reads, “If this person needed help, I would want you to say something.”
The culmination of the week at East was an all-school viewing of the Sandy Hook PSA “Evan,” followed by restorative circles led by 4th period teachers. In just over two minutes, the video illustrates how tough it can be to pay attention to signs of impending crises among fellow students.
As the students in Hans Hiemstra’s history class reflected on the action steps they can take to prevent bullying and isolation, many suggested starting with the basics: Be kind, Pay attention, Be friendly to everyone. One student said, “It doesn’t need to be some big intervention…just reach out when you see someone is struggling.” In Dominic Koplar’s class, students zeroed in on the goal of always being inclusive as well as “making an effort to open our eyes to those around us.” And when a classmate’s pain is apparent on social media or in the hallways, Say Something.

Sandy Hook Promise identifies the organization as “a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible non-policy and policy solutions that protect children and prevent gun violence.” Students participating in SAVE activities need not choose legislative sides, nor embrace specific gun controls.

It’s all about bringing awareness into their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones.