In addition to the traditional No. 2 pencils, spiral ring notebooks and plastic protractors, some retailers this year are offering bullet-resistant backpacks as part of their back-to-school shopping inventory.
Let that sink in.
Bullet. Resistant. Backpacks.
As we prepare for the opening of a new school year this week, it’s impossible to hide from the harsh reality that we can no longer assume that community schools offer a guaranteed safe haven for students.
To their credit, local school officials recognize the reality of the fact that yes, indeed, “it can happen here,” and have been proactive in trying to make school environments safer for everyone.
The Times editorial board
- Norman Baggs, general manager
- Shannon Casas, editor in chief
- Cheryl Brown
- David George
- Mandy Harris
- Brent Hoffman
- J.C. Smith
- Tom Vivelo
From limiting access to buildings to expanded use of security cameras and enhanced notification systems, efforts are underway to make sure students in local classrooms are as safe as possible during the time they are entrusted to school personnel.
Sadly, it is no longer sufficient that teachers be trained in how to instruct, they also must now know how to secure their classrooms from danger, how to protect their students, how to react in the face of violence. It is training that everyone hopes never comes into play, but which is now as essential as being shown how to properly record student absences each day.
It is not an over dramatization to say that teachers today have to ask themselves if they are willing to put themselves in danger to protect their students. That’s a heavy burden to ask anyone to carry.
Recognizing the toll on staff, many schools also are doing more than in the past to help professional educators better handle the pressure that comes from knowing that each day they are responsible for protecting their students from harm during the school day. The stress factor is very real.
Schools across the nation and here at home are doing more to identify students who may become a danger to themselves and others, with increased emphasis on recognition of mental health issues that may lead to violence and programs to address issues such as bullying and social isolation that may lead to antisocial behavior.
But here’s the thing. Despite the acknowledged realities of student danger as exemplified so painfully by seemingly random and totally unpredictable school rampages of recent years, class bells still have to ring, school buses still have to run, and students still have to get an education.
And as with the opening of any new school year, there is cause for great optimism and enthusiasm despite the very real concerns about student safety.
Both the Hall County and Gainesville school systems have incredible things on tap for students this coming year, and the future for youngsters attending either system is as bright as school bus yellow.
There has been a recent trend toward workforce development and career exploration that we heartily endorse as being vital to the academic strategy for all students. Helping youngsters to decide what they plan to do after they leave the world of public education, mapping career paths that may not include college for some, and maximizing the success potential for those who are college bound are integral parts of the modern educational system.
Thanks to technology, students in local schools can do things that could not even be imagined a generation ago. Hands-on experience with advances in robotics, computers, programming and other modern technologies help prepare youngsters for the world of tomorrow.
Magnet schools to maximize the quality of instruction time in areas of specific student interest, academic academies and creative opportunities for specialized instruction combine to make sure students aren’t lost in a bog of traditional rote instruction.
School-coordinated events that happen outside and away from local campuses also offer incredible opportunities that weren’t available just a few shorts years ago; opportunities for travel, exploration outside the classroom, interaction with students from other areas, maybe even other countries.
There are many amazing things happening in our schools today, things that were unimaginable just a decade ago. We would be remiss if we became so focused on potential perils that we don’t recognize some of the incredible opportunities available to area students.
Before it all starts anew, we should all take time to say thanks and offer words of encouragement to the classroom teachers, the administrators, noncertified staff and bus drivers who make it all possible. While there are those who are quick to criticize the end result of a “government education,” the reality is no other system could possibly provide so many opportunities to such a broad swath of students of diverse economic backgrounds in such an efficient manner.
Public education is a privilege, and in this area we are privileged indeed in the learning opportunities offered in our local schools.
The buses hit the road this week, so make time in your daily routine to allow for delays and new traffic patterns, be patient as you wait for the lines of cars that are inevitable around local schools, watch carefully for youngsters who may dart across roads in their rush to get to a bus in the morning or home in the afternoon, and welcome that start of what we fully expect to be an exceptional 2019-20 school year.