Thoughts from Dean Virginia Roach, Ed.D.
(Excerpted from her address to the GSE Class of 2018 at Fordham’s 173rd Commencement)
Sadly, in February this year, a gunman attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When it was over, we learned that 14 students and three staff members were fatally shot and 14 others were wounded, making the incident the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.
This horrific event and 49 others (including those shooting incidents in which no injury occurred) during 2018 have had a personal impact on many students in our school, as one student shared with a professor the day after the Parkland event:
“We had a practice drill [today]and honestly, I was really upset. It was the first time I really realized that when I become a teacher, I have to be aware of what to do to keep children safe and calm, even if I am panicked, and that I am responsible for other lives before my own. I was wondering if maybe we could address this issue in class briefly at some point. Even though today was just a drill, I was having a hard time keeping back tears, thinking what would I do if this were real?”
This past academic year has been a sobering reminder of the tremendous responsibility GSE students have chosen to take on as counselors, therapists, mentors and school leaders. Not only is there the trauma of an actual incident, but students must also learn how to handle the fallout from such events. They must be prepared to support children, youth, families, fellow educators and staff, even an entire community after such events.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is helping individuals and communities heal while ensuring the curriculum is being taught, the exams are passed, and the children make smooth transitions through elementary, middle, high school and post-secondary choices.
Indeed, as this student noted, our GSE graduates will be responsible for keeping children safe and calm, potentially in life-threatening situations. As a teacher, counselor, or leader, our graduates may even be called upon to put the lives of others before their own, an overwhelming and life-changing responsibility.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and other incidents were indeed discussed in classes, as well as across the GSE. Faculty discussed ways in which educational leaders help communities recover from trauma, and ways in which they can support healthy social and emotional development of children, youth and families to help prevent such shootings in the future. We are all working together to ensure that GSE students are prepared to be the heroes of tomorrow.