HARRISBURG– Attorney General Michelle Henry this morning met with Philadelphia high school students and Philadelphia School District officials to discuss the impact and toll of gun violence on the students’ mental health and well-being.
In attendance at the roundtable were Dr. Tony Watlington, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia; Dr. Malika Savoy-Brooks, Assistant Superintendent of Special Projects; Tomás Hanna, Associate Superintendent of Secondary Schools; Kevin Bethel, Chief of School Safety; Dr. Jayme Banks, Deputy Chief of Prevention, Intervention, and Trauma; Ariel B. Peterson, Director of Career-Connected Learning; and Melodee Jackson, Work-based Learning Coordinator, CTE.
“Gun violence is an epidemic that affects the lives of Pennsylvanians every single day,” said Attorney General Henry. “Gun violence not only kills, it can harm our loved ones in other, invisible, ways– like harming their mental health. I’m here in Philadelphia to hear directly from these students and learn from them the impact this epidemic is having on young people in our Commonwealth.”
This roundtable is one of a series of discussions that the Office of Attorney General plans to do across the Commonwealth with young people from various school districts. In June, the Attorney General visited McKeesport High School and listened to students share their lived experiences and feelings of frustration at having to adapt to the reality of regularly-occurring gun violence in their lives.
In Philadelphia, students shared how they learned about gun violence, shootings, and other traumatic events in their communities. Many expressed feelings of frustration about the frequency and proximity of shootings near their schools and how that pattern disrupts their learning in multiple ways: time spent not learning in lock-downs, confusion and limited direct information about an incident, and the challenging expectation that classroom instruction will resume as normal afterwards. The cyclical nature of shooting incidents – groups or individuals reacting to violence with more violence – was also raised as a pattern students witness among peers online and in their communities.
Furthermore, students were asked how adults can better support students’ mental health– including how to better improve communication between adults and teens– and what positive experiences the students rely upon to build resilience. Students were encouraged to engage with school-based resources for information, counselor support, out-of-school programming and existing relationships to cope with incidents of gun violence that impact them.
The School District of Philadelphia is one of many school districts participating in the Office of Attorney General’s Safe2Say Something program. This program allows students to anonymously report instances of violence at their schools including gun violence, bullying, or threats of suicide.
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