Commit to 1,000 Schools in 1,000 Days to Protect Our Kids
Our kids are not alright. It’s not normal to practice active shooter drills as a preschooler. It’s not normal for a parent to worry that their five-year-old might not have on their “listening ears” that day and follow a teacher’s plea to stay quiet and hide. It’s not normal that my eight-year-old knows that it’s a possibility that someone might enter her classroom someday and harm her and her friends.
As this school year comes to a close, I’m struck by just how much our students have been confronted by–whether school violence or the effects of Covid on learning and community. Even one of these challenges would test any young person. Taken together it is no wonder our kids are struggling.
The debate around what to do to protect our youth is never-ending. But we need to do something now to help the other crisis that is brewing as a result of gun violence — the crisis around mental health.
In my 20 years of working with youth and young adults, and from my experiences with my own children, I’ve seen the unique power that they have when they connect with each other supportively, listening with the open heart and mind only a peer can offer. Kids are honest — sometimes too honest- and can quickly connect and respond to situations that are much bigger than themselves. So, what if the solution to the mental health crisis caused by gun violence is through leveraging the power of what students are already doing: talking to each other?
We’re putting that theory to the test. Active Minds, as the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for mental health awareness and education for youth and young adults, is committing to bringing our proven model to 1,000 K-12 schools in the next 1,000 days.
Peer-to-peer efforts, like those modeled by student-led Active Minds chapters around the country, bolstered by toolkits, trainings, and partnerships with trusted adults, can serve as an antidote to the unparalleled mental health crisis facing our nation’s youth, and help students talk about their needs, normalize the topic of mental health, and provide personal contact and support to help alleviate crises for students.
Our nation’s students need real solutions and support to help them through the emotional trauma that living through a childhood of school shootings can create. They also need these solutions to be tailored to them, both in language, context, and content.
They especially need to be taught the words and phrases to help themselves and each other because most young adults (67%) are more likely to first share a struggle with a friend before turning to anyone else. When a friend opens up to them, they need to be ready and prepared with supportive language, resources, and ways to help validate emotions and connect to care. These aren’t the only solutions, and equitable care and resources in schools remain vital. But undervaluing the power of young adults themselves is a mistake we can’t make anymore.
We’re committed to bringing Active Minds to 1,000 schools, though we cannot do it alone. We need schools to declare that this issue is one they not only need to deal with, but will. We need schools to build the policies you need to bring life-saving conversations to help students navigate another school year. We need action — now. Our students need support. And our students need the language and tools to help them help each other. That’s what Active Minds is committed to. I hope you can join us.