March 20, 2018

The Ability of One Inanimate Object to Corrupt

By Santiago O'Neil & Will Byerman

Santiago: “School Climate” refers to the overall “feel” of a school, an average consensus of the mood among students and administrators. A multitude of variables go into creating school climate, including the workload of students and staff, the social dynamics between students as peers, and our relationships with the aforementioned adults. These factors look different at every school, but consistently influence the belonging students feel or the lack thereof.

It is imperative to note, however, that a school doesn’t have to be the direct target of a shooting to be affected. When an earthquake occurs, it is destructive in its aftershock, not just its pinnacle. After there is an incident involving a firearm or the like in a school, a ripple effect may spread across the county and the region at large-- adversely affecting school climate and the ability of students to learn in a safe and conducive environment.

At Henry Clay High School in Lexington, we watched as a single gun confiscation turned into a rumor mill, with students talking of suicide, numerous guns, planned shootings, a drug overdose, arrests, pictures of pistols. Students and teachers were unsure of what was true and what wasn't. Nearly half of the students had left by fifth hour. Less than a third showed up the next day. This instance at Henry Clay illustrates the ability of one inanimate object, to corrupt what should be a warm and secure learning environment.

Will: Safety goes beyond gun control; it transcends what is physical, and becomes much more psychologically complex. Because gun violence is both a symptom and a contributor to a much larger disease: defective school climate. If schools strive to be conducive to learning, then they must recognize that security and openness are not mutually exclusive. For students to foster relationships and study material, they cannot feel like they are behind bars, as is the case all too often among students today.

Most schools have not experienced the atrocities that occured in Marshall County and Parkland, yet they can suffer some of the same symptoms that foster an environment in which those tragedies can occur. Regardless of location, all American students suffer from the ripple effect of these events.

Students and citizens across the nation cannot continue to be forced to reconcile with these experiences. But acknowledging the issues of gun violence and poor school climate are only as valuable as the solutions formed based on our understanding of them. We need, more than condolences and acknowledgement, we need to collaborate with civic leaders, elected officials, teachers, parents, psychologists, and social-workers. We need a solutions-oriented conversation, and we need to have it with the entire community. Violence in our schools is everyone’s challenge. Not just our schools’. Not just our administrators’. Not just our students’. It is everyone’s challenge, and thus requires everyone to work to find solutions, common ground.

These remarks were deliverd at the March For Our Lives Kentucky Rally organized by the Student Voice Team on the steps of the capitol in Frankfort on March 20, 2018.

Will Byerman

Will Byerman

Will is a Yoda Corps Advisor and former member. He graduated from Henry Clay High School in 2020 and is a student at the University of South Carolina.

Santiago O'Neil

Santiago O'Neil

Santiago is a former member of KSVT. He graduated from Henry Clay High School in 2020.