In the weeks since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it has been hard for many of us to make sense of such tragedy. How do we understand a society in which children in school are the victims of senseless violence? And how do we respond to the unimaginable? I am grappling with these questions along with so many others across our country. While I don’t presume to have all of the answers, it seems appropriate to share the steps we are taking at Schechter Manhattan.
First, we are making sure we are all safe. At Schechter Manhattan, our students’ safety at school is our highest priority. We follow the guidance of security experts to review and maintain the security of the school building. We work closely with our security firm, Security USA, to revise and update security systems and protocols on a regular basis and we have a good relationship with the NYPD, with the 24th precinct being only a short block away. We also consult with a protective security adviser from the United States Department of Homeland Security, who has visited Schechter Manhattan, reviewed all of our emergency protocols, and told us that we have appropriate security measures in place to keep our school safe. We remain diligent about the upkeep and practice of those systems and our annual meeting with the protective security adviser will take place later this month. As part of our safety plan we run 12 safety drills over the course of each school year, including lockdown drills, which are designed for active shooter scenarios.
Our students’ emotional safety also needs support. News of school shootings is scary for all of us. Facing our fragility and mortality is challenging for adults and can be even harder for children. One way we can help students when they confront events that make them feel unsafe is to be ready to talk with children about the sad events. I expect that, like me, many Schechter Manhattan parents have spent time over the past weeks talking with their children about the shooting and its aftermath. Offering our children a calm and caring space to ask questions and talk about how they feel can help them build coping skills that will serve them well in the future. Click here for suggestions of ways to talk with your children about scary news. While we won’t be bringing up the school shooting in younger grades, our teachers are ready to respond with an open ear to students who want to talk.
Sadly, this recent shooting is one of a number of such tragedies and calls upon us to speak out for change. This week I signed my name to an open letter along with many other heads of Jewish day schools urging action and common sense legislation that will protect the students, teachers, and staff in our schools. As an educator, it is truly moving to see so many young people across the country taking the lead on advocacy efforts to enact change. We aspire for Schechter Manhattan students and graduates to be leaders who work to make the world a better place.
To that end, we have planned opportunities for middle school students to think about these important issues and participate in the civic discourse in their own ways. Middle school students gathered to share what they know and feel about the shooting, participated in lessons about the public policy issues being discussed, and learned about varied perspectives so they could come to their own conclusions. They also engaged in conversations about potential steps they might take in order to support gun safety in schools. Looking ahead, those students who want to participate in the national school walkout on March 14, which has been supported here in NYC by Mayor De Blasio, will have space at Schechter Manhattan, supported by faculty, to gather and express their ideas about the issues. (Parents who want to take their children out of school for the walkout should notify the school office at [email protected].)
I pray that a time will come soon when we will no longer need to worry about keeping our children safe from guns in schools.
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
We have been learning about Shabbat in Kitah Aleph. As part of our learning, we wrote Shabbat poems and created illustrations to add to them.
I smell challah
I see lit candles
I hear Shabbat music
I taste grape juice
I feel challah with my hands
Click here to view work by Alex
I love when I see the twisty challah
that is fun to play with
and love because everybody loves challah.
Click here to view work by Adele
The sticky sticky dough sticks to my hands and
while the candles are blowing
we say a special prayer
to say that Shabbat is coming closer and closer.
Click here to view work by Noa
Third-graders wrote a letter to the author of the books they are reading in their Reading Response Journals. Some told their authors why they liked a book, a question they had, or made a personal connection to their characters.
6th-grade students illustrated scenes from the Megillah. These pictures were displayed during the all-school Megillah reading on Purim.