We’re so proud of Lori Beth Dunlap for speaking to issues she’s witnessed within our community and demanding action to help shape a better future for our young people – one that provides hope, health, and connection to the youth of our future.
Good evening Dr. Joseph, members of the board…
Thank you for the opportunity to speak briefly this evening…My name is Lori Beth Dunlap and I am the STARS counselor at Buena Vista Enhanced Option Elementary School. This is my third year at Buena Vista, and to say I love what I do is an understatement, I consider it a privilege J A significant part of my role in the school is to build relationships with scholars, their families, teachers, staff and administrators in order to provide restorative approaches to addressing behavioral issues that impede the learning process. I do this through behavioral crisis support, as well as individual and group counseling sessions…and I see and hear the trauma that many of our scholars carry with them into the building on a daily basis. The task of keeping ALL of our scholars physically, mentally and emotionally safe in our schools cannot solely fall on the already heavily burdened shoulders of our teachers and administrators- counseling services offered in the school setting are a vital part of the success of our scholars academically, socially AND emotionally. I have seen firsthand how offering these services not only positively impacts the child and their ability to learn but changes the classroom and school environment at large for the better as well.
In my almost 11 years as a social work professional, I’ve also had the privilege of working with adults exiting incarceration, and was entrusted with a “front row seat” in supporting them as they sought to rebuild their lives. I’ve heard their stories…of pain and trauma…that led them to make decisions they never thought they would have made, ending up in places they never would have envisioned for themselves when they were children…and that we would never envision for any of our scholars. So many of these painful stories and journeys began in childhood…where messages of their worth and value (or lack thereof) were implicitly and explicitly reinforced by adults and systems that should have met them where they were, protected them and advocated for them EQUITABLY. It is my assumption and hopes that all of us here are committed to doing our part to make sure that ALL of our scholars are not only thriving now…but have bright and hopeful futures both inside and outside of the school walls. Our scholars should not only have adults in their lives that are pointing them towards hope and success-even when they are at their most difficult and fragile-but the greater systems of our city should choose to actively take a stance that reflects this hope as well…for ALL of our children.
I ask you, the board, to create a policy that will end all suspensions, expulsions, and arrests for elementary school students, except on 500 level offenses.
I will leave you with this African Proverb:
“The child who is not embraced by the village…will burn it down to feel its warmth”.
Thank you for your time,
Lori Beth Dunlap
Prevention of Child Abuse Comes in Many Forms
Steve coaches baseball for the local little league, giving kids encouragement (and Gatorade) at practices after school and during weekend games. Ashley volunteers in her church nursery, loving on babies and giving parents a needed break. Cedric spends time mentoring elementary school kids through a local agency, teaching them about life, working hard, and how to do a behind-the-back pass on the basketball court. And even though they might not realize it, Steve, Ashley, and Cedric are all preventing child abuse and neglect.
When communities are full of active, supportive adults, children grow up feeling secure and valued. And while only 27% of Americans report that they are engaged in prevention,
- 80% of Americans reported donating goods, money or time to an organization supporting children and families,
- 70% reported volunteering with children through places of worship, schools, and sports or academic clubs, and
- 56% provided mentorship to a child in their family, neighborhood or community.
What does effective support and protection of children look like?
These are all effective, meaningful ways to protect children and support happy, healthy childhoods! Whether or not you have children, you can have a profound impact on their well-being. It only takes ONE caring, supportive relationship with an adult to positively impact a child’s long-term success.
No matter if you are a parent, a grandparent, a neighbor, a coach, a teacher or simply a friend, know that when you spend time making children feel supported and valued, you are building a layer of protection around them, preparing them not only for a lifetime of success but also building their resilience for when the road gets rocky.
How to Make a Difference in A Child’s Life
While there are countless ways you can make a difference in a child’s life, here is a list of five things that EVERY child needs:
- Holding and cuddling does more than just comfort; it helps children’s brains to grow and develop.
- Music expands a child’s world, teaches new skills, and offers a fun way to interact.
- Talking with a child helps to build verbal skills needed to succeed in school and later in life.
- Play activities help children explore and develop their senses and discover how the world works.
- Reading to children from the earliest days of life shows its importance and creates a lifelong love of books.
It’s important, too, to recognize the people who are playing these important parts in the lives of children. That’s what Prevent Child Abuse Tennesee’s #PassThePinwheel campaign is all about. It’s about calling attention to all the people who are preventing the abuse and neglect of children, even when they don’t realize that’s what they are doing. So find someone who is doing great things for kids – or maybe someone made a difference in your own childhood – and Pass the Pinwheel to them! When we all work together, we can make sure that every child experiences the happy, healthy childhood they deserve.
A Snapshot of School Shootings
“Copycat Threats Fuel the Fear,”
“19 Years after Columbine, schools are locked tightly”,
“Generation Columbine knows no other worlds”
These are headlines from recent articles in local and national newspapers spurred by the horrible tragedy at Parkland. Parkland is now a word that will be etched in our minds forever, just as Columbine is from nearly 20 years ago.
The headline, “Generation Columbine knows no other world” is a tragic reminder of a hard reality. Young people and schools changed forever on April 20, 1999. While there had been many shootings reported in the 1990s prior to Columbine, and many in the years afterward, nothing prepared the nation for the deaths of 17 young people and adults that occurred on February 14, 2018, in Florida.
Shootings Have Been Close to Home
Before Columbine (for those of us living in Nashville) there was another tragic event that occurred on April 21, 1994. Directly across the street from my residence at John Trotwood Middle School, a seventh grader was shot to death in a classroom while watching a video of Beauty and the Beast. Terrence Murray was 13 and tragically died when the weapon of another 14-year-old discharged.
This horrible event happened in a classroom, in a school, where my children would soon attend. My son would attend JT Moore in just 4 short months and my daughter would follow the next year. Friends in our neighborhood had children in the school and in the classroom where the shooting took place. The sights and sounds that afternoon with the news crews, police and cleaning crews (with an awful steam cleaning vacuum sound coming from inside the school) will never fade. The impact on our neighborhood was traumatic. Life in Nashville in schools would never be the same. Our children, 13 and 11, would grow up in a world that had changed, in an instant, because of the death of a middle school student in a classroom. The unthinkable had happened.
Shootings Across our Nation
Five years later on April 20th, stories broke of a tragic multiple causality shooting in Littleton, Colorado. Again, neighbors had close relatives with children attending Columbine. The years between these two tragedies included 30 more school shootings, several in Tennessee. Personally and professionally, these tragedies would influence my life’s work. At STARS, we became trained in best practices in bullying prevention, an issue that appeared to be a significant risk factor for many of these young shooters.
In a February 27, 2018, article, the Conversation, by Jeff Daniels, referred to the report that was released by the Secret Service in 2002 following the Columbine attack. Daniels posed the question, “Has the research (some 15 years ago) been ignored or forgotten?” We do know some things that we can do to help prevent these horrible tragedies. Beyond the debate on gun ownership the Secret Service found:
- Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts
- Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack
- Most attackers “engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help
- While most attackers—96%—were male, the report found that there is no accurate or useful ‘profile’ of students who engage in targeted school violence
- Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide
- Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack
What We’ve Seen at STARS
Our work at STARS has taken us to different parts of the state and the country in the aftermath of some of these terrible events. Some schools and communities needed follow-up in helping them deal with the trauma of such a tragic event. Others wanted solid evidenced-based trainings to help prevent these catastrophic events. In all cases, school leaders, parents, and communities wanted to do everything possible to ensure that yet another generation could know a different world.
My birthday is April 20th. The events surrounding my birthday have been etched into my memory forever. The domestic terrorist truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19th, Columbine on the 20th and JT Moore on the 21st are stark reminders of the senseless loss of life of too many young and old. These dates are also markers of my hope; that we may not forget some of the things for which we know to be on the lookout and that we would be ever more vigilant to protect, safeguard and strongly advocate for the safety and well-being of our children.
May our younger generation know a different world!
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