Safe Schools are Healthy Schools

The afternoon of February 14, 2018 marked the 239th school shooting since the Sandy Hook elementary shooting in 2012, the 239th time in just over 5 years that – as a nation –  we have reacted with outrage and sadness at the loss of students and teachers’ lives, the 239th night that I have come home from work, hugged my kids, and thanked the heavens that it wasn’t their school while also crying for those families who weren’t as fortunate, and the 239th morning-after where I have woken up sad, angry, and struggling to understand how this can keep happening.

A little over a year ago, I made my first visit to a FoodCorps school in New Jersey. I was joined by Amy, our New Jersey Fellow (now staff member); two other staff members, Emily and Alexa; and several philanthropic partners. Halfway through the garden lesson, we and the 20+ pre-k children, responded to an alarm calling us back into the school. As the school was put on lock-down, the FoodCorps service member calmly and soothingly worked with the teachers to bring us all back into a safe place.  We handled our rattled nerves by dancing and singing about vegetables.  We never learned if that was a drill or if there was a credible threat.  But, the impact on me was the same.  I’ll never forget the calm and expertness that the teacher and service member led with.

My heart is heavy – and I imagine that many of yours are too. Our nation’s schools are meant to be safe places – oases of health and learning. It makes me weary to know that all too often, this isn’t the case.  But, I also believe that change can, and will happen.

FoodCorps exists because every child deserves the opportunity to grow up healthy and to reach their full potential. For this to be possible, our schools must be places that nurture the health and wellbeing of all students. No student should ever be faced with the fear of gun violence. No educator should have the need for active shooter training. No one should experience what the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School did and what thousands of other students and educators have experienced as a growing reality in our country.

FoodCorps service members have shown us the powerful potential of student-led initiatives by demonstrating what happens when you empower youth with the knowledge and access they need to make informed decisions about what they put in their bodies. Even as we mourn the loss of so many lives, I am proud to see a student-led movement taking shape across this country and building toward a tipping point of accountability.  We are seeing students, teachers, school leaders and parents standing up, walking out, demanding change.  FoodCorps admires and applauds these brave individuals — joining with them and amplifying their voices — saying, enough is enough, we demand an end to gun violence and the hatred, bigotry, and racism that often fuels it.

Guns do not belong in schools and the way to end violence in schools is not by performing drills and arming teachers.  It is time for every school to be a healthy and safe school.