Sandy Hook Parents Work to Prevent Another School Shooting
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Sandy Hook Parents Work to Prevent Another School Shooting


– This week marks a somber anniversary, the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. In the five years since,
many of the parents who lost their children that day have been pushing to reduce gun violence. One group, Sandy Hook Promise, has taken that effort
right into the schools. Special correspondent,
Lisa Stark, of our partner, Education Week, traveled to Miami to visit the first school
district to implement the program. It’s part of our weekly
segment, Making the Grade. (whistle blows)
(people talking) – [Lisa] Miami’s John Ferguson High School spills over with more than 4,000 students, the largest school in the district. – There is a lot of isolation around. – Especially with a school this big. – Cause it’s very hard for
some students to fit in. – [Lisa] These students
are working to change that. – They just wanna make sure that everybody knows that they’re not alone. – [Lisa] Their motivation,
a tragedy that happened five years ago and nearly
14 hundred miles away. (truck beeping) – [Male] A very chaotic scene is the best way to put it right now. – [Lisa] The horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary
in Newtown, Connecticut. 20 children, six and seven
year-olds, and six educators gunned down by a troubled 20-year-old. – No one should ever lose a child in these sort of circumstances, especially when it’s preventable. – [Lisa] Nicole Hockley’s
six-year-old son, Dylan, died in his first grade classroom. Her grief magnified by what
she found out afterwards. – I’d always assumed that
our shooter had snapped. And it was a moment of clarity, furious clarity for me, to find out that he had exhibited signs and
signals throughout his life, and that this was a very
typical mass-shooting. – [Lisa] Hockley’s mission now? – [Nicole] We want to prevent other tragedies from happening by teaching people to know the signs of violence. – [Lisa] She and other Newtown parents started Sandy Hook Promise, and enlist students in their fight. – We promise! – [Lisa] Their free training has been used in 4,000 schools
and youth organizations. It includes, Start with Hello, an activity which encourages
students to interact. – [Large Crowd] Hello! – [Lisa] And a program
called, Say Something, teaching students to tell an adult if they see signs someone may be a threat to themselves or others. – This isn’t about snitching,
or being a tattle-tale. This isn’t about getting
someone in trouble. This is about getting them help. – [Lisa] The nation’s fourth largest school district,
Miami-Dade, has signed on. Sandy Hook Promise trainers have visited more than 100 schools here. – There are a lot of
atrocities in schools. School shootings and such
stem from students who were either bullied, or isolated. And so by dealing with this problem, we’re hoping that we can minimize anything coming up in the future. – [Lisa] Dewey Cornell, who has analyzed school violence for decades, says that is precisely the point. – You don’t prevent a forest fire by waiting until the trees are all ablaze. You pay attention to all the campfires. You make sure all the
campfires are taken care of. And we have incidents of bullying all the time in our schools. And the more that we can do to deal with these minor conflicts before they escalate into more serious ones, the better off we’ll be. – Reducing violence in schools isn’t just about reaching students. Experts who study the issue say, it’s also important that
teachers and administrators react sensibly to any safety concerns. – Is a student posing a threat? Alright, is the student on
a path toward an attack? – [Lisa] A team from every
school in Miami-Dade is learning how to identify, evaluate, and handle possible threats. They’re taught to take threats seriously, but not to over-react. – We had a child who chewed his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun and
was suspended from school. After the Sandy Hook shooting, a first grader in Maryland went “pow, pow” with his finger and was
suspended from school. These are fearful overreactions that send a really negative message
throughout the school. This girl doodled on her desk.
– Cornell, who developed [Lisa] this threat assessment training after the Columbine
school shooting in 1999, believes districts that
use zero-tolerance policies make their schools less safe, students less likely to report concerns. – If a threat is vague, or
if somebody is clearly angry, you wanna err on the side of caution. – [Lisa] This training includes exercises. What should a school do if a student threatens to beat up another? And what if a teen has a hit list? (people talking) The goal, not to automatically
expel the student, but to address the underlying problem. – What I’m taking away today is that not everything can be
solved with a suspension. It takes really bringing
those students together, letting the victim feel heard, letting the one who, you know, did the bullying understand what he did or she did is really changing our mindset. – [Lisa] Advocates say this could be more effective than turning
schools into fortresses, because most school
shootings are carried out, not by an outsider, but by a student. – We’ve got a series of controlled studies over the past 15 years, showing that when schools use our model
their suspension rates go down, their bullying goes down, and the threats aren’t carried out. – [Lisa] The Sandy Hook
training isn’t one and done. Schools pledge to keep awareness high. At Ferguson, the Psychology Honor Society sponsors numerous events. You’ve heard of speed dating? The students here have a new
version, speed friending. – We got people from different grades and we put them all in the gymnasium. And each of them had
two minute conversations and then you can see that
people were, like, laughing. People that had never met each other, people having full-on conversations. – [Lisa] An effort, they
believe, has paid off. – In one of the speed friendings, there was a student that
was having a problem and he opened up to it. So we brought the attention
to one of his teachers and that really helped him to cope with his problems and
talk about them more. – [Lisa] Other activities include encouraging students to
join someone eating alone, and to pass positive notes
to friends and strangers. – Alright, ladies and
gentlemen, good morning! – [Lisa] Ferguson High
School psychology teacher, Michelle Vigoa-Suarez, heads up the ongoing activities
inspired by Sandy Hook Promise. – Before they came, I
didn’t really value the, what I could do, you
know, it was kind of like, I thought of it as, well,
it’s just a society problem and let’s just pray, you know? But when Sandy Hook came they
gave us the power to say, wait a minute, but we can stop this. Why are we gonna sit back and say, well, we’ll react when it happens? – [Lisa] It’s hard to measure how much of a difference
all this really makes. Sharon Krantz oversees the
effort in the Miami-Dade schools. – You know, this is prevention. So you don’t really know
what you’ve prevented, but I know that we’re
making it okay to speak up, we’re making it okay to include people. – There have been times that we’ve reached out to different
communities and families. – [Lisa] Nicole Hockley
points to anecdotal reports, indicating their Say Something training has stopped suicides
and possible shootings. In California, students reported a classmate’s threatening online post. In Ohio, students overheard shooting threats and alerted school officials. And how does that make you feel? – Sometimes, it takes me out at the knees. If I’m honest with you,
because it’s incredibly elating to know that we’ve just been
able to help someone else. But it’s never gonna be enough. – [Lisa] Hockley says it
only encourages her to take her message to more
schools, to redouble her efforts. For Education Week and the PBS News Hour, I’m Lisa Stark in Miami, Florida. (lively instrumental music)

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