School Psychologists Urge Positive Approach to Tragic Anniversaries

The National Association of School Psychologists says dwelling in the past does more harm than good. Instead, it says, on the anniversary of a tragedy like the Parkland school shooting, focus on positive change.

A year ago this week, a tragedy in Parkland, Florida, changed the dynamics of the gun debate in the U.S. and put urgent attention on school safety.

The one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School brings those issues front and center again. And April will mark the anniversaries of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and the 1999 shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School.

The “anniversary effect,” in which people tend to revisit and reflect on tragic events, can take a severe psychological toll on people directly affected, and media attention can extend the strain to many others, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.

NASP President Lisa Kelly-Vance recommends an alternative approach: Rather than reliving the past, focus on the improvements that have been made to school safety since.

“This is an important time to highlight the positive steps schools are taking to improve school safety,” Kelly-Vance said in a news release. “Schools have made tremendous progress in implementing strategies to support students and reduce violence of all types. As educators, we can take this opportunity to reinforce both the fact that schools are generally very safe and the important role that all members of the school community play in promoting ongoing safety.”

Many such changes have been implemented in schools in recent years. The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools issues annual guidelines recommending specific steps for improving security response, including standard policies, practices, and technologies that can be adopted in any school district.

NASP released a series of recommendations of its own this week that focus on both physical and psychological safety. They include better access to mental health services, prevention and crisis-response training, and reduced access to firearms for those with mental health issues.

At the top of the list is a simple guideline: “Create welcoming, supportive learning environments. Students need to feel connected and included in their school communities,” NASP says.

And while security is necessary, “an overemphasis on extreme physical security measures alone, such as metal detectors and arming school staff, will not improve school safety and, in fact, may undermine student perceptions of safety and schools’ ability to ensure an effective learning environment.”

“We cannot turn our schools into fortresses,” Kelly-Vance said. “Genuinely effective school safety efforts protect the physical and psychological safety of students and staff.”

(anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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