By Gab Bonesso
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
It’s that time of year when all the kiddos are getting ready to go back to school. They have their backpacks, markers, crayons, laptops and, of course, their active shooter drill packets.
Welcome to the First Day of School, 2019!
I was performing a concert in the park earlier this month and some of the attendees were parents and children from local school districts that I visit with my anti-bullying assembly program. Three of the kids told me that they were headed off to middle school and they would miss seeing my program.
I told them that I also do mental health assemblies for middle and high school students. At this point, one of the parents informed me that she is on the P.T.O. and that she would see to it that my mental health program was booked. She said that it was something the middle school desperately needed.
After our chat, I had that “rockstar moment” of packing up all my gear and lugging it to my car. These days, I’m a one-woman band so I have to make several trips.
On the last trip to my car, one of the kids who was heading off to middle school appeared from behind a shrub. She startled me. She asked in a really sweet and meek voice, “Gabby will you come to our school and do your mental health program please?”
Her tone broke my heart. I explained that I would love to come but I have to be invited by the school or the P.T.O. I was curious why she felt the middle school needed a mental health program since she hadn’t even started middle school yet.
She told me that when summer began she got a packet from the middle school detailing what to do in the case of an active school shooter. She said reading the pamphlet and thinking about the reality of an active shooter, has caused a great deal of anxiety. She told me that her peers were also experiencing this and a mental health conversation would be helpful.
I was so confused that the school would send a packet on active shooter drills, but not also send a companion packet about mental health support.
The conversation around shootings always falls on the back of mental health, yet that’s not the conversation we’re having in schools. I do think it’s important to have a plan on what to do in the event of an active shooter, but I also think it’s important to have conversations about feelings and emotions. I think it’s time to encourage kids to see a therapist so they can share their anxiety, depression and rage in a safe space.
Do you remember when you were a kid and the only thing you feared about starting school was a mean teacher? These kids today have the weight of the World on their shoulders. It’s not fair and we are expecting far too much from them. We can’t just scare kids by teaching them how to use their desks as shields without also offering emotional support to go along with it. They should be able to count on us to protect them both physically and mentally.