By Lori Kitaygorodsky
My 17-year-old daughter spent her senior year learning at home. Her year was anything but conventional.
She was certainly not alone, as the pandemic forced most teachers and students across the country to log on and focus on the screen in front of them for an education.
Globally, as many as 1.2 billion (World Economic Forum) were out of the classroom because of the implications of COVID-19.
Summer break has thankfully brought a welcome respite from the drone of the past academic year’s challenge. But when I asked my daughter if there was any positive about online learning, her answer surprised me —safety.
You see, she recently graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Her freshman year was marred by one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. She’d been in the freshman building and witnessed unspeakable horrors inflicted upon her classmates and teachers that Valentine’s Day of 2018.
Seventeen were killed, and seventeen others were wounded. And while her sophomore year was spent trying to make up for lost instruction time and schoolwork, it was the mental anguish that was life’s lesson that year.
Junior year was no better, as fallout from the two years past caught up with her, both inside and outside the classroom.
I look at her now, a marvel of psychological strength and grit, as she prepares to leave for university in a matter of weeks. But returning to the question I’d asked her regarding online learning and what she enjoyed most, her reply was, unexpectedly, the safety of being home.
As millions hopefully return to the classroom this Fall, the issue of school safety must return to the forefront. I do not mean safety concerning any particular virus. Rather, I am referring to the safety and security of teachers and students on campus across the country.
Make Our Schools Safe, a nonprofit created by Lori and Ilan Alhadeff after losing their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa in the MSD shooting is a beacon of hope in the world of school safety and security.
A grassroots organization, Make Our Schools Safe (MOSS), seeks to empower students and staff to help create and maintain a culture of safety and vigilance in a secure school environment. The foundation collaborates with high-level security advisors to offer survival information for protection in emergencies. It then focuses on bringing this information to the teachers and students, thus helping to strengthen the inherent weaknesses in school security.
The two primary objectives of the organization are the passage of Alyssa’s Law at the Federal level and the establishment of Make Our Schools Safe clubs in every high school in the country. Alyssa’s Law, already passed in both New Jersey and Florida, calls for the installation of silent panic alarms directly linked to law enforcement. Time = Life, and in the event of any emergency, seconds count.
Equally as crucial to the primary objective of school safety is the Make Our Schools Safe high school clubs. This on-campus offering provides an inclusive, welcoming space where students can create a culture of school safety.
There are 12 clubs in schools presently, so there’s still much work left to be done. The empowerment of today’s youth is the best chance to make changes in school safety today. As Lori Alhadeff says, “your voice is your power.”
Out of one family’s tragic loss, hope for the safety of all students and teachers was born.
As my eldest daughter leaves for university and the younger one begins her junior year, I hope that returning to their respective classrooms will be safe and productive. After all, students should thrive in their classrooms, not fear for their lives.
If you’re interested in getting involved or know a high school student who is ready to help, don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lori Kitaygorodsky works as the Communications Director for Make Our Schools Safe. She became passionate about school safety after the tragedy at MSD. She is a four-year resident of Parkland who lives with her husband and children.
Send your news or views to Parkland’s #1 news source, Parkland Talk.