The Marshall County High School shooting last school year brought school violence back to the forefront in Kentucky, inspiring Senate Bill 1 in the General Assembly. The bill’s team approach to address school violence, more accurate threat assessment, and TICE – Trauma-Informed Care for Educators – can be effective, say behavior and mental health professionals recently presenting to teachers in the Graves County Schools.
“With Senate Bill 1 and the need for mental health resources in our schools, a lot of changes are coming,” said David Daniel, a behavior specialist with the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative, located at Murray State University. The co-op is one of eight across Kentucky, providing professional development and other resources to public school districts in their respective regions.
“One training we present is Youth Mental Health First Aid,” Daniel explained, “to help adults recognize youths’ potential for suicide, for threats to the school, and from that, threat assessment. Statistics and research show that having the threat assessment model in place reduces both suspensions and difficult behaviors by 50 percent. Graves County is one the first school districts to jump on board. So, by the time school begins, all certified staff in the district will have completed TICE.”
Why has so much school violence emerged in recent decades?
“That is the million dollar question,” answered Carla Mangeles, a mental health specialist and Daniel’s WKEC colleague. “One Kentucky Educational Television video addresses ACE scores – adverse childhood experiences. Kaiser Permanente is a health care organization that studied why so many people visit hospital emergency rooms. After interviewing 17,000 people, a large sample of mostly middle class adults, it boiled down to issues with weight. The reason, they found, was what one lady said in an interview: ‘Overweight is what I want to be because then I am unseen. I don’t want to be noticed.’”
Mangeles continued, “Often times, that could be attributed to adverse childhood experiences. So, they did what is called the ACE study. They found Kentucky has the highest percentage in the United States – tied with Montana – of students with ACE scores. In Kentucky, 10 percent of students by the age of 8 have three or more ACEs. Also, 80 percent of intravenous drug use can be attributed to ACE scores. Parental incarceration also is a factor.”
Dewey G. Cornell is an American forensic and clinical psychologist as well as a professor of education at the University of Virginia. His model is the one on which the threat assessment Senate Bill 1 requires is based. It helps reduce suspensions and includes a plan to recognize the likelihood of a substantive threat, all according to Mangeles.
“We have to start addressing mental health needs of our students,” she explained. “A lot of schools are taking steps to have mental health counselors on staff. Many use Mountain Comprehensive Care, including Graves County. The no. 1 predictor of a student being resilient and developing coping skills is having at least one supportive, caring adult they have a relationship with and feel comfortable talking to about their problems. A lot of kids don’t get that at home. So, where do they get that support? They come to school for it. So, we have to have relationships because a lot of kids don’t have positive relationships with either an adult or a peer group.”
Cornell’s research has identified three pathways for students, according to Mangeles. School shooters tend to fall into one of those pathways. One is the conflict pathway. Those are people who have been bullied or perceive that they’ve been bullied and now they’re seeking revenge. The others are an antisocial pathway, such as juvenile offenders. Some are gang-related and involved in substance abuse at early ages. Finally, there’s a psychotic pathway, true mental illness. “It all goes back to relationships,” Mangeles concluded. “We have to know our students and know what they are doing.”
“This professional development definitely will help us as teachers,” said Graves County Middle School teacher Craig Fuqua, a 15-year classroom veteran. “The home lives of our students often are unlike how we grew up. Drugs are more prevalent. Divorce rates are very high. These kids have seen and gone through more than I ever could imagine. This material we covered today prepares me better to handle that in the classroom. We deal with these kinds of problems on a daily basis.”
Graves County Middle School teachers, seated from left, Ashley Darnell, Elaine Mitchell and Ellis Shelby listen to consultants David Daniel and Carla Mangeles of the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative. The two explained Kentucky General Assembly Senate Bill 1, which addresses threat assessment, trauma-informed care, and teamwork in combatting school violence in the aftermath of last school year’s Marshall County High School shooting.
(photo by Paul Schaumburg, Graves County Schools)