By Robyn Barberry, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robyn Barberry teaches English at an alternative high school and a community college in Maryland. With her husband, she manages Legends of the Fog, a haunted attraction with more than 200 teen volunteers. She has an Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction from Goucher College and blogs about motherhood for The Catholic Review.
(CNN) – On the first day of classes late last month, I kissed my little boys goodbye and updated my Facebook status: “Wishing all my teacher friends a happy new school year!” I rushed to my classroom at an alternative high school near my home outside of Baltimore. When I turned on the LCD projector, a soft glow of dust-speckled light hit the stark white screen, and displayed the words “Welcome back!” I was prepared for everything except what happened.
When I was leaving the office, the school resource officer stopped me.
“There was a school shooting today...in Perry Hall,” he told me.
I must have stared at him for an entire minute before I could speak.
Shootings didn’t happen anywhere on the first day of school. Certainly not in Perry Hall.
The officer was armed with a badge, combat training and a service weapon, and he wasn’t prepared for this, either. He said a lone gunman had shot one person in the back, and that he’d already been apprehended. There was no word on the victim’s condition.
This wasn’t the way the first day of school is supposed to be. The beginning of a new academic year offers a clean slate for teachers and students alike. We debut new, improved versions of ourselves. “This year we will shine,” we convince each other. Dreams like this are never deferred by the crack of a shotgun across a school cafeteria on the first day of school.
I thought of my friend who teaches chemistry in Perry Hall. I’d tagged him in my Facebook status update before I left the house that morning, and now this. I was grateful later to get a text message that he was on lockdown in his classroom, safe and awaiting evacuation.
I thought of my boys. I called my mom, who was watching them. I needed to hear their voices. I needed to hear them breathing. I needed to know if this was real and that they were OK. I needed to know I was OK.
It had happened, but not in my school. I still had a job to do.
I did not talk to my students about the shooting. It was our first day together, and I didn’t want to disrupt our opportunity to bond. My students and I spent the afternoon on John Updike’s “Ex-Basketball Player,” paired with a discussion about the recent sentencing of basketball star Tony Farmer. The theme of the day was avoiding self-destructive decisions.
Still, I worried. I was surrounded by a number of students with histories of violent behavior. If it could happen 20 minutes away in Perry Hall, why couldn’t it happen here? Teachers are always on edge after a violent school incident, no matter where they are or how far away it occurred.
I became a teacher to help kids like the alleged shooter, 15-year-old Robert Gladden Jr., find constructive solutions to their problems through reading, writing, and the arts. It’s a skill set my troubled teens need academically and emotionally, and one I have already begun to share with my own sons, who are too young for school.
I treat students the way I’d want my children treated. I listen to them and give honest advice. I challenge and encourage them. I respect their individuality. I keep them safe from harm, even if it means shielding them from each other or from themselves. It’s an easy perspective to have, considering I’ve never been forced to make a life or death decision during the school day.
When I read the news stories about the Perry Hall incident, I learned a guidance counselor, Jesse Wasmer, had restrained the alleged shooter and captured the gun after a second shot was fired.
If faced with the same scenario, would I have the courage to put my life on the line to protect my students? Or would I be obligated to protect myself for the sake of my own children? What would I want my sons’ teachers to do for them in my absence?
Above all, we want to be prepared for events like this. But, how could Perry Hall’s teachers, students and parents anticipate a shooting halfway through the first day of school? How can you look for warning signs on the day you’re just learning each other’s names?
The American school system has become so focused on attaching numbers and labels to children that we’ve forgotten about individuality. We’ve devalued independent thinking in the world of multiple choices, but one right answer.
Strides in science and math are essential to our country’s future in our global economy, but without humanity and creativity, how can we progress?
It’s time for the pendulum of American educational philosophy to stop swinging and start balancing in a way that accounts for all of our students’ needs.
In the push for achievement, we’ve lost sight of the emotional needs that plague many young people. They’re drowning. We’re watching from the shore, training them to swim laps alongside their peers with the expectation that they will figure out how to stay afloat on their own.
Gladden was described in local media reports as “smart,” but evidently, he was unstable, too. Students like him tend to disappear in a world where good grades and test scores mean everything is OK.
His Facebook status update before he left for school was, in many ways, the opposite of mine: "First day of school, last day of my life."
We all need to be more vigilant about what kids are saying on social media, in their writing, and in their art. These acts of expression offer us windows into a child’s psyche. Sometimes we are witness to a warning. Sometimes we can intervene.
Safe schools start with every student knowing that someone cares about his or her well-being first, followed by academic achievement. We must create a safe culture of belonging for all students.
As a teacher, that’s what I hope to offer other people’s children. As a mother, that’s what I hope teachers will offer my own children.
In a sense, every school shooting is an act of terrorism because fear interferes with the way people live their day-to-day lives. I wondered how many Perry Hall students– especially freshmen, who were likely scared of high school to begin with – stayed home the second day of classes.
I was in high school when the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado caught the nation’s attention. I begged my mom to let me stay home for the rest of the week. She taught me that I couldn’t live my life hiding in fear.
I pray that my students, my sons and I are never part of a story like the one those photographs told. Were it to happen to any of us, I’d pray for the courage to make the right decision and the strength to handle the consequences.
Weeks after the shooting, we’ve learned that the victim, 17-year-old Perry Hall student Daniel Bowery, is recovering.
As parents and teachers, we have the overwhelming job of preparing children to be adults. For most of us, that means sending children to school with the expectation that they will return home unscathed, in possession of meaningful new knowledge, and inspired to be better human beings. It’s never guaranteed, but we act in good faith.
Being Mrs.Barberry to other people’s children and mommy to my own children requires that I balance two opposing beliefs in a philosophy I like to call realistic optimism. In facing life’s fragility, I must keep a constant vigil on the dangers of our world. Yet, I must suspend my fears for long enough to believe the future will be bright.
The opinions expressed are solely those of Robyn Barberry.
I have consumed violent media almost my entire life. I started playing Doom at age 8. I watched Aliens at age 5. I personally own 2 longarms now that I am grown, but when I was younger I did know where my father's hunting weapons were kept. So, why didn't I go on a spree?
Well, I was taught that a firearm is a tool, not a toy. What negative social experiences I had at school were relieved positively, with hobbies and harmless cathartic activities. Did I have thoughts of violence? Of course. I was an adolescent male, that's natural. I was taught to control my anger and redirect it through physical labor and my hobbies. Raise your kids. Actually raise them. This is simple stuff, but no one seems to do it.
anyone heard of the saying "do as i say not as i do" well that's just a nice way of saying "I'm a hypocrite" but the point is there is a easy way to teach kids not to do these kind of things you show them these things then you explain to them why they shouldn't do it and they will learn not to. because sheltering them doesn't help it actually does the complete opposite it makes them clueless and want to try these things and this applies to more than just guns
Now, being in high school a senior at the moment. You cannot blame video games and movies for this crime. Yes there are games like mw3, black ops, and others that are very big on shooting and things of that nature, but it isn't something you can pin on a child and the creators on why this happened. It may have been bullying, it may have been trouble at home. But really we do not know. Blaming "god" or someone else's beliefs isn't going to solve anything. I myself am not religious, but you cannot blame it because you are christian and think that its all wrong. For all we know he could have just hated his life and thought this was the way to finish it off.
it so sad that she had to here that my heart goes out to you.sorry for your lost.
No matter where you stand on educational reform or character education, there’s no denying the fact that we are currently experiencing a worldwide epidemic of youth violence. Whether propelled by depression, fear of failure, the pain of being bullied, or a host of other troubles young people face today, more and more of them are turning to violence as a way of dealing with the stress of growing up. From the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007 to recent shooting incident.So, what is it that these kids are desperate for? What do they need that they are not getting at home or at school? The answer is simple—basic human values instruction. These children are desperately seeking someone who can teach them how to get along in this world, how to be happy, peaceful, and successful. They are fed a stream of pocket-lining sales pitches from the media to look a certain way and wear a certain label of clothing. When the bell rings for each school day to begin, they face the scrutiny of their peers, all of whom are also trying to find their way in a world of mixed messages and misplaced values. Perhaps at some point, it all becomes too much.
Often, teachers shy away from imposing their personal values on their students. I suppose some parents think this is a good thing. Maybe I even agree to some extent. After all, would I want a teacher whose values differ from my own teaching those beliefs to my child? Perhaps not. But, what do we do about those kids who aren’t taught worthwhile values by their families or those who don’t have families to teach them anything at all? What do we do when those kids show up at our doors begging to be taught? Do we turn them away? If we do, what will happen to those kids down the road? How will they deal with the stressors that we all face as our lives become increasingly complex and demanding? Will they turn to alcohol or drugs to control their fear and anxiety? Will they fill our streets and prisons with their misguided self-soothing? Will they do something unthinkable? Will it be their fault if they do?
These are all questions we must answer if we’re serious about leaving no child behind in our society, as we say we are. Clearly, becoming a successful, productive, and fulfilled human being is about more than learning how to read and solve math problems. It’s certainly about more than passing a standardized test, yet we continue to place so much importance on what are arguably trivial things, and in the meantime, kids continue to suffer—from the pain of being abandoned, from the fear and confusion of feeling lost, from the ignorance of not knowing any better.
The school system is the ideal place for these seemingly lost children to receive the moral guidance they are craving. Teachers spend a good seven hours a day with these kids and no doubt impose a powerful influence on their lives, for better or for worse. Failing to take at least a small portion of each day to address issues such as social skills, coping mechanisms, life strategies, and character issues is a mistake that frankly, we can’t afford to make. In fact, there are four key values all public school teachers should impress upon their students on a regular basis:
•Love- Students should be taught to love and respect themselves. Only by loving themselves can students ever learn to truly love others. Love, being the opposite of fear, is the one force that truly has the potential to change our world for the better.
•Peace-Teachers need to model and teach conflict resolution so that students learn to peacefully interact with one another even when a problem or dispute arises.
•Compassion-When given the opportunity to communicate with one another and share their feelings, students will learn to empathize and feel compassion for their fellow man.
•Integrity- Teachers should stress the importance of integrity to one’s self-esteem. When students learn to make decisions based on honesty and integrity, they can then feel proud of their choices and empowered to continue making a positive difference in our world.
AMERICANS ARE IN DENIAL. the US has a huge problem with guns, just like the alcoholic, people must understand they have a problem first, so they can find a solution after..
Actually, we're at a 40 year low point of violent crime in youth. School shootings and the like are just newsworthy, so the media latches on and beats it to death. Check the FBI or Department of Justice data. There are still sick f***ing people in this world, but that will never change.
As stated, maybe he was bullied. Maybe he had a bad home life. Or, maybe some girl he fancied told him that she wasn't interested in him that way, and he couldn't handle it. Having been a teenager, I can tell you kids do some stupid things for some stupid reasons; but going this far shows signs of mental illness in either the student or the tormentors.
stupid teenagers i wish i would have been there to protect people
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Personally, I enjoyed reading a teacher's take on the violence that sometimes takes place. I like knowing that some teachers out there really do look at our children as individuals when they are teaching them. As far as giving these kids a job- it doesn't matter where it's at. Some kids just need to feel needed and important. It has nothing to do with where as long as they enjoy what they are doing and someone notices. I think this teacher obviously cares a lot about her students and all this other talk is just talk. Stick to the story. Kids, just like all people, want to feel needed and important. That's the point. That's why she said they need someone to listen to them and treat them like individuals. It's not rocket science people.
That's why I conceal & Carry. Enough Said.
......It's your type who usually goes off the deep end and commits such acts of horror.
False. Last stats I heard, CHL carriers were responsible for less than 1% of gun crimes in the US.
Great, they also account for far less than 1% of the population so I get no comfort from your stat.
I guess you don't see a problem... do you?
Teens are brutalized and attacked daily. Mostly on the streets and inner city Parks. Those don't make the national headlines. Only when something is even suspected amiss within a school and the dreaded term "lockdown" is mentioned does the national press gets going with their helicopter and experts. When a teen gets shot in school it's a national tragedy. When a teen is killed on the street the term "authorities do (or don't) think it was gang
related" always appears in the local coverage and
the story dies. If there were one answer as to why there is teen violence don't you think we'd have solved it by now?
If you need "god" to tell you what right and wrong is then there is something fundamentally wrong with you.
When you remove God you remove what right is. Kids today are not told in public schools they should not kill others but a lot of the movies and video games tell them it's ok. Plus they are not told there are evil spiritual forces that do effect this world.
Aaron, you are exactly right. I think what needs to be pointed out to Liberals who say things like "Christians are involved in these attacks more than Muslims" and similar non-sense is that we should point out that real "Christians" and professing Christians are two entirely different creatures. It is asinine for a guilty shooter to suddenly claim a link to Christianity when he hasnt darkened the door of a church in maybe 15 or 20 years. But Lib media are always quick to point out that "he was a Christian"........simply because the individual was not a Muslim, Hindu or whatever.
The notion that god loving and fearing people don't commit violence is bs. Or that if your not religious your more prone to killing. My kids are not raised with a strict religious aspect to their life and their perfect. Straight A's, student leaders, volunteers, and role models. We listen to heavy metal and I am covered in tattoos. So your point is invalid.
Derek, I've got to agree. Christians who think religion is not about violence have not read their own holy book AND have no concept of history.
American love to kill and they kill for pleasure and sport and as for student in school, whey is the Military standing at the school doorway looking for cannon fodder?
Sir, you know nothing but hate...it is not welcome here...
Typical christian idiot. "Without god everything is bad." You sicken me with your insane rationalizations and are the most common thread when it come to evil in this world. I hope you die very horribly.
It's people who say things like that who I fear. You want someone to die horribly because of their beliefs? What's wrong with you?
Lord, save me from your followers.
If kids don't know that they're not to harm others by the time they start kindergarten, their parents have failed miserably and the kids probably will never learn that lesson.
If you can't even get past the fear of a potential school shooting long enough to effectively do your job, you need to look for a safer career like envelope stuffer or mall Santa assistant (elf). School is just training for real life, and real life is filled with murderers, too. Let this spoiled teacher work a day in Mogadishu and then tell me what fear is.
I'd bet you never served your country anything other than fries at dinner time.
You obviously didn't read the article. And what does Mogadishu have to do with anything? This is America. If their schools are worse, THEY need to fix that.
I appreciate your care and concern for our children evidenced in this article. However, one of the most influential things in a child's life is what is fed into his or her imagination. I am an artist: I wholeheartedly agree that the arts can make a difference. What I don't understand is how you can run a "haunted attraction" and then turn around and act shocked that kids are acting out horror in real life. Please use your artistic creativity for good in this world. Yes guns are dangerous, but hearts obsessed with horror are even more dangerous.
You think giving a troubled teen a part time job at a haunted house is more dangerous than a gun? How so?
You can't actually believe working in a haunted house or watching a scary movie can drive someone to murder do you? That is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Explain yourself.
Now that's just silly. Have you read any fairy tales (or Poe, for that matter)? They are much creepier than any "haunted attraction". Kids know both aren't real.
Ms. Barberry, I do appreciate all you and your peers do. As others have posted, you are often forced to both raise AND teach the children under your care. I don't envy your position, and I know you and your colleagues show up each day to work driven by purpose, not a paycheck (though, hey, we all have to put food on the table).
That said, I'm a gun-toting, freedom-loving, libertarian jerk. Does this announcement help you? Not at all...except, perhaps, I might hope that you and your peers teach all of our children something about self-reliance, self-dependence, standing up in the face of brutality, and prevailing in a world of seemingly unlimited brutality. Answering our problems as a society begin first with us, then our families and friends, then our communities, than our Federal government. Trickle down responsibility works worse than trickle down economics.
The true problem in my opinion is that public schools are now being asked to teach,and rear the children. They are becoming havens for the slow the deranged and the ill bred children that are being birthed in great numbers but not reared. Perhaps if their were less dysfunctional parents you would see less of this happening in schools.
End socioeconomicism. Not right when they call someone smarter.
"Fear, Hope, after school shooting"
-and I had to go to the link to see WHICH School Shooting, out of dozens, it referred to. sigh
Wouldn't have happened on MY island. Didn't I show u all on how to deal with young p u n k s?
This sorry comment is in very poor taste. Breivik is a compound murderer who ought to swing by his neck, not be celebrated in CNN comment posts. Most sane people wouldnt say that sucker's name if they could keep from it.
Son of the South is right on the money. You're a jerk, "anders".
How does the "Dark Knight" contribute to having low values exactly??
I don't think curtailing personal freedom will help these children make better decisions. I believe the problems lay in the home. If your child lives on a video game and believes that what they see is real, then you are not communicating with your child and teaching them values. Hiding what is out there is not the key, helping them understand how to interpret it and maintain who they are in the mean time is.
Agreed. So many kids do all these things (games, etd), but come from homes where there is structure, love, and financial sufficiency. They don't get to this point. As a country we need to do more to "raise" these kids because they aren't getting what they need at home. They are the ones who are suffering. Along with their classmates.
Correct. If a person cannot differentiate the violence portrayed in movies and videogames from reality, then something is wrong with that person. In the case of a child, this may be able to be fixed with proper parenting lessons. Some children, however, like some people, are fundamentally damaged. There are and always will be people who are going to hurt other people for reasons completely unknowable to any but them.
Robyn, you make some good points. Clear thinking and expression are ingredients that can mitigate the danger of violence in schools. However, the problem of spotting crime and terrorism before it strikes is pervasive in society and very difficult. In the context of schools, nurturing and monitoring teens is important, but more easily said than done. I'd suggest that other aspects of the problem include "garbage in, garbage out" (music, movies, video games, TV), accessibility of guns, mental and emotional distortions through the drug culture, the need for teens to have significant freedom of action, and the natural, highly variable nature of teen mental instability.
Social media expand one dimension of the problem, by providing a venue with near total immersion in peer groups and nearly complete isolation from adults, in many cases. I think social media bear some responsibility for raising red flags in cases that need more than routine help. Technology might be able to allow Facebook to detect and refer significant risks to agencies that might be able to prevent some tragedies like this one. Another option to consider might be to require that students allow access of guidance counselors to their social media accounts as a condition for being enrolled in school. Perhaps a national task force addressing violence in schools could come up with some helpful approaches?
im a high school student too and i thank that is very scary i do not no what i would do if something like that was to happen her at my school... i would probley be scard to come back to school.... h have crazy people like that all in the world these days... Im Glad your kids was ok....
PS Amber n. Jordan
You should "probably" spend more time in English class...
Amber & Jordan–Thanks for reading the news and sharing your ideas with the world!
another kid that was bullied and got fed up
You'd be surprised how many shootings aren't by bullied kids. Though the common narrative of Columbine was that the kids were bullied and just snapped. The reality is they were deeply psychologically disturbed, and had even been bullies themselves before acting. While I reserve judgement in this case because I don't know all the facts, there is a possibility he could've been totally average by high school standards and just lost it.
CNN...what about the low standards our EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM has???? How can we talk about the after the fact results....a shooting only and not what got us there in the first place!!!!!....what about the FACT that the MEDIA...specifically HOLLYWOOD has been pumping garbage for so many decades and now its worse...these kids watch this stufff...like the "Dark Knight" and with their low values....confusion...lack of good formation due to our LIBERALISM respond in this way.....how about some real JOURNALISM here...have the courage to talk about why these KIDS are LOST!!!
We live in a world where we demand every fetus be brought to term and then we don't care what happens from there. So many children are raised in broken homes. Did we do them any service forcing them to endure this and then standing in judgment when they make a mistake?
"Low standards in the educational system"? Really? You are going to blame teachers for this, too? Unbelievable.
You are just plain ignorant for blaming "the Dark Knight" or any movie on any shooting. These people are mentally unstable and the movies have nothing to do with this. Moron!
Excessive and misplaced use of capitals is confusing me....
Maybe instead of blaming the media and entertainment industries, we should actually focus on those responsible. Knee-jerk reactions and placing the blame on those that didn't pull the trigger won't bring back those that perish in these tragedies.
You can't blame the dark knight shooting on this child, or on video games. If the parents were more involved in a child's life they would show them that violence isn't going to solve anything. I being a 17 year old senior at the moment, who plays video games and watches the gory, shooting type things. This is what society is, and blaming it on hollywood won't do you any good. If one has so much of a concern then the parents of children should regulate what their child watches. You can't always just blame society and what happens in it with stupid people. It can also be the parents fault for not showing their child was is right and wrong.
Typical.....can't totally blame Hollywood. Kids that join gangs didn't learn that stuff from the media. It goes back to the parents. I am an adult going to an automotive trade school they've got sop for situations like this so guess what.... its not just happening in high schools anymore.
CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org