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School Violence Is Adding To Student Stress And Anxiety

Jessa O'Connor
Vigil for student fatally shot at Butler High in Matthews

Students bringing guns to school has Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials implementing and planning tougher security measures.

They include installing more cameras, giving teachers panic buttons, using wands on students to check for weapons, hiring more police and limiting access to schools.

Two years ago, 17 guns were confiscated in district schools. Six were reported as of last month, including an incident at Butler High where a 16-year-old student was fatally shot.

Students are more anxious and are not feeling safe at school because of the real and potential threat of gun violence, according Dr. David Hill. He's a former board member of the North Carolina Pediatrics Society and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. He said the risk of a student being a victim of gun violence is low, but the perception of it happening is another story. He talked with WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn.

Dr. David Hill:  If you look at media coverage of shootings and the amount of discussion and attention paid to them, it’s terrifying to be a kid right now. They see this over and over on the news. They have to practice active shooter drills regularly at school. And all of that raises the level of fear that can really be out of proportion to the actual danger — even when the actual danger is real and need to be addressed.

Gwendolyn Glenn: So you’re saying that a lot of students are under a lot of stress. Is it affecting their ability to well in school?

Hill: Very much so. Stress is a real sponge for attention. When you are stressed, your brain is running that program in the background and it is taking away bandwidth that you could use to study, pay attention to your teacher and get your work done. We know that anxiety can be mistaken for ADHD, and there are a number of kids we’re treating for ADHD and really should be treated for anxiety instead.

Glenn: How prevalent is that?

Hill: I don’t know the exact numbers, but I know that they’ve been rising over the past five years among kids. That’s something that if we wonder why kids are not doing as well in school as we’d like them to be, we really need to look at that as one of the top causes.

Glenn: One thing that CMS officials are looking at now is wanding students randomly as they come to school. Would wanding add to the stress?

Hill:  I’m no school safety expert, but I do think that everything that keeps the danger at the top of kids’ minds also adds to the stress of coming to school.

Glenn: Now, another thing they are talking about here, and at other schools as well, is bringing in more nurses, counselors and psychiatrists. What are your thoughts?

Hill: That would be tremendously useful not only because of school shootings and violence, but because mental health issues are rife among children and adolescents. If a kid has anxiety or depression or stress, there is little a teacher can do to help that. That’s where mental health professionals can make an enormous difference in that child’s performance and conflict in the classroom.

Glenn: You started practice 16 years ago. Have you ever seen anxiety at this level that students are facing in schools?

Hill: My impression is matched by the data we have now suggesting that especially teenagers are facing increasing levels of anxiety and depression compared to the past. No one knows all the reasons for that, but I don’t think we need to know the reasons to in order to respond appropriately.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.