2018-04-05 / Front Page

Rogers Students On School Safety, Then and Now

By Jocelyn O’Neil

Since the shooting and loss of 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, the nation has been debating the issue of gun control. A new movement by teens, called #Never- Again, has swept across the country, sparking marches, teach-ins, media campaigns, and causing new legislation to pass each week. The main focus for the movement is to accomplish a ban on the manufacture and sale of assault-style weapons, and to strengthen existing gun control laws and add new ones. Locally, the dialogue has moved to school safety, here and now.

Newport This Week asked current Rogers High School students and alums about their experiences with school violence and what they believe could be some approaches to making the school premises safer for students, as the debates continue about who should and shouldn’t have guns.

Julia Machado, who graduated from RHS in 2008, is like many others in her age group who see the dramatic effect of school shootings.

“When I was in high school, we had bomb threats now and again,” she said. “The school, obviously, always took them seriously by evacuating everyone and by calling the police. But it usually ended up just being someone who wanted to get out of school.

“After checking the whole school, we’d go back inside and continue class as if nothing happened. When we had these fire drills, no one ever told us how to handle anything else that could have potentially happened.”

Machado sees the difference between her schooldays and now.

“I haven’t been in high school for over a decade,” she said, “…but it seems that school shootings have become much more prominent, and it seems that some schools are taking action in their own ways to protect and teach students.”

Jared Vance took over as RHS principal in 2017. He has been working in schools since the mid-1990s and said he has seen a dramatic change in the level of violence.

“Back in the day, kids could leave and come back and that was OK,” he said. “Well, now that’s not the case because we have to assure their safety when they leave and until they are back at school or home.”

Nijah Johnson, 17, a senior at Rogers, said she has her own ideas for keeping people out. “I think a card swipe to get into the building, a key pad, or a camera before someone buzzes you in,” she said.

Vance has put in several initiatives to repair what he calls “swiss cheese” in the safety of the school. RHS now has monitors to patrol the halls and take visitors to their destinations, and badges for students and teachers to wear at all times.

RHS will perform about 15 drills every year that include lockdown situations, evacuation drills, drug shutdowns and fire drills.

Johnson said the violence she has experienced at school has been “mainly just fights.” However, she said she has some anxieties about safety during this June’s graduation ceremony.

“We don't have much safety,” she said. “But we've recently started to lock the doors and are currently building a 10-foot fence to block the most accessible ways into the school from locals.”

Johnson says that the school committee has worked to make it a better school. “I think that we need to have a talk about all of this and really make sure kids understand that this is not a joke and it's to help prevent shooters from just walking in… since our campus is so open,” she said.

Active shooter training drills, Johnson said, could be a way to convince students to take school violence seriously, and to learn how to respond to such a situation.

“We should also make [people] aware of how to get away from a shooter… we could easily get trapped inside the fences,” she said.

John Parkos, who graduated from Rogers in 2004, believes changes on a local and national level must take place before the violence stops. He said that teachers and administration need to home in on problems that are deeper than late homework assignments.

“To prevent future [incidents], tighter security and a keener eye on individual student issues… could be a start,” he said. “We have to think local but act nationally.”

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