Calgary schools use mental health workers and resources to help students feel safe
After a Texas elementary school massacre, some are looking at gun violence safety protections in Calgary’s school system while mental health experts offer advice for difficult mass shooting conversations.
Grief is pouring out on the 19 elementary students and two teachers who were gunned down Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Officials say the 18-year-old shooter was armed with an AR-15 type weapon and was killed by a Border Patrol agent at the scene.
“It’s absolutely awful,” said Martina Kanciruk, a licensed psychologist who practices with children and youth in Calgary.
“I can only imagine how terrifying that would be.”
Tragically in the United States, school shootings are not uncommon.
Just 10 years ago, the deadliest mass shooting at an American elementary school took place at Sandy Hook in Newton, Connecticut, killing 26 people.
In 2018, a gunman opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people.
SAFE SCHOOL PRACTICES
Schools across North America, including here in Calgary, are now practicing drills for active shooters.
Preparedness for violent attacks is encouraged, doors are frequently locked, and police are assigned to school buildings.
“We’re in a situation where it could happen here and it’s not to scare. It’s the prevention element that we have to try to make sure that everyone is ready for that if a situation arises was happening in a school, it’s for safety,” said Tad Milmine, student resource officer with the Calgary Police Service (CPS).
“Everyone knows what to do.
Milmine says her role is to connect with the student body and intervene early when signs of potentially criminal or dangerous behavior are spotted, and called her work rewarding for her ability to make a difference in the lives of young people.
In a statement to CTV News, the Calgary Board of Education said, “Ensuring schools are safe for students and staff is of critical importance to all school boards.
“Calgary School Board schools must have plans in place to respond to specific emergency situations such as fire drills, closures, offsite evacuations and external threats,” it read.
“CBE and other school boards have worked with the Calgary Police Department to develop our lockdown protocols and ensure they are consistent across the city.”
The Calgary Catholic School District has also used active fire drills and student resource officers to minimize threat response anxiety.
“CCSD also has counselors in all of our middle and high schools, as well as welfare workers in our elementary schools, who are available to speak to students or parents who have any concerns or concerns,” reads in a statement.
“The safety of our students and staff is CCSD’s top priority.”
Both school boards say they are in mourning with the victims of the Texas shooting and all those affected.
EXPERT ADVICE ON CHILD MENTAL HEALTH
Such extreme events can upset children or feel unsafe in their schools and child mental health experts say honest conversations can help ease the mental toll.
“Saying ‘don’t worry’ doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, it makes people more worried,” said Martina Kanciruk.
She says it’s best to express her understanding that it must be scary and offer to talk about what happened.
Kanciruk says it’s important to acknowledge their concern and then explain that the likelihood of tragedy happening to them is not likely, to balance the risks with the realities of being prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“If we don’t talk about things, all we end up doing is having a generation of young people who push away feelings, who push away their thoughts, and don’t learn how to talk about them, process them, or get answers to their questions,” she said.
CANADA SEES SCHOOL VIOLENCE
Although school shootings are rare, Canada is not immune to violence.
On May 18, CPS responded to Bowness High School to arrest a student accused of bringing a stolen handgun and ammunition to school in a backpack.
No one was hurt, there was no containment.
The youth was charged with six offenses related to carrying a concealed weapon, unauthorized possession, careless use and tampering with a serial number.
However, the school’s initial memo sent to parents after the incident did not say there was a firearm involved, raising concerns about the school’s transparency.
Principal Jana Macdonald sent a new letter on Wednesday, saying she was responding to law enforcement leadership and details were ultimately up to the CPS to release.
Macdonald added that it is important to be as transparent as possible and that student safety is paramount.
Details of the incident were filed with the Calgary Police Commission at its public meeting on Wednesday.
In those submitted details, he said: ‘Further investigation revealed that the student was likely attention-seeking and not motivated by violent tendencies.’