Gun violence is just another part of life for students who attend Animo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School in South Los Angeles.
The school itself has become a refuge for students, while outside the walls lies an impoverished neighborhood where gang violence and homelessness are acute. One can’t drive through the neighborhood - where dozens were killed during race riots in the 1960’s - without seeing makeshift memorials hung from telephone poles where young men and women were murdered in more recent years.
Many of the students have become numb to violence. But when several students trained in the Say Something program saw a 13-year-old classmate showing significant behavioral shifts and bragging about his plans, they knew it was time to act.
The students told a trusted adult, who immediately contacted the authorities. The student was found to be in possession of an AR-15, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a map of the school and several hit lists of students and staff members that the teenager wanted to “give presents to.”
Students and administrators also found handwritten notes throughout the building warning about the threat, but nobody could tell who wrote them. It wasn’t until students spoke up about what they had heard that administrators and law enforcement sprang into action.
The student exhibited many of the signs discussed in the program, including significant behavioral changes, pulling away from his peers, outright bragging to other students and becoming increasingly protective of his belongings.
“There is no doubt that lives were saved that day,” said Angela Rodriguez, the school’s assistant principal.
The administrator credited the training the students received in March along with a prolonged effort to create a culture of trusting relationships between adults and students at the school. Students who learned the signs already had a trusted adult they could turn to.
Animo Mae Jemison Charter School is located in the center of Watts -- home of the infamous race riots in 1965 that left 34 dead and more than a thousand injured -- and the Rodney King riots in 1992. Because of the history, trust is something that doesn't come easily to some in the community. It has to be earned.
“Students around here see school as just another government institution that failed them,”Rodriguez said. “As a result, we’ve done a lot of work to build strong relationships with our students and their parents.”
Several years ago the school instituted an advisory period at the start of the school day. Students stay with the same advisor throughout their three years at the school so that they can build a trusting relationship.
It was their advisor that the students trusted enough to approach in November, when their classmate began making the threats.
“Afterwards I heard from several students who said they had seen classmates with a gun in the past, but were too afraid to say anything,” Rodriguez said. “Fortunately, nothing happened here, but who knows what might have happened outside of school.”
The only way to combat the violence, she said, is to empower students.
“Most kids want to do the right thing, but they hear a lot of noise today,” Rodriguez said. “We have to become part of that noise. If we don’t, our message will get drowned out.”
Find out how you can empower students with Say Something.
February 7, 2020 -- Newtown, CT -- Yesterday, students from Bellaire High School in Bellaire, Texas urged the public safety and homeland security committee members to take action on ensuring safe storage of firearms and providing gun violence prevention programs for schools. Their demands come in the wake of the shooting at their school on January 14 that took the life of 19-year-old Cesar Cortes.
In response to this outcry for action, Sandy Hook Promise issued the following statement:
“It always hurts me deeply when I hear about another young life taken by gun violence. But the students at Bellaire High School and their call for change bring me hope and should inspire us all to take action,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
February 4, 2020 - Newtown, CT - Yesterday, two women were killed and one child was injured at a shooting on the Texas A&M University-Commerce campus, located about 60 miles northeast of Dallas.
In response to this tragedy, Sandy Hook Promise issued the following statement:
“My heart aches with the families of these women, grieving lives lost too soon, and with yet another school community reeling from a shooting. Schools should be among the safest places in our communities. For that to happen, we must all remain diligent in learning the warning signs that point to increased potential for violence,” said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and mother of Dylan, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “Knowing the signs and speaking up immediately when seeing them are critical to preventing these tragedies from happening.”
Winners Showcase How ‘Start with Hello’ Builds Community and Breaks Barriers
December 20, 2019 -- Newtown, CT -- Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that young people who feel connected to their school are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like substance abuse and violence. Designed specifically to help create a more inclusive and connected school community, the Start with Hello program reduces the social isolation that can lead to violence in schools. Breaking down barriers to build community is the subject of the Start with Hello Week Student Voices competition.
December 19, 2019 -- Newtown, CT -- Today, Congress passed the FY20 spending bill that included $125 million in funding for evidence-based school violence prevention under the STOP School Violence Act.
Sandy Hook Promise applauds the strong bipartisan leadership in both chambers that supported this effort to allocate much-needed funds for violence prevention programs and threat assessment teams in schools that will help stop suicides and school threats and save lives. SHP issued the following statement:
December 17, 2019 -- Newtown, CT -- Yesterday, Congressional leaders reached a long-awaited deal to fund research on gun violence for the first time in more than 20 years. With gun violence on the rise, this deal will provide $25 million to be split evenly between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to study gun violence and how to prevent it.
Sandy Hook Promise, a leading gun violence prevention organization, issued the following statement in response:
Sandy Hook Promise turns tragedy to transformation by making schools and communities safer
December 11, 2019 ̶ Newtown, CT ̶ Today, Sandy Hook Promise, a leading gun violence prevention organization, announced that more than 11 million students and educators have participated in one or more of its Know the Signs programs since their inception in late 2014. These programs focus on prevention to help end the epidemic of gun violence by training others how to identify at-risk behavior and intervene to get help before a tragedy can occur. Through these no-cost programs, Sandy Hook Promise has averted multiple school shooting plots, teen suicides, and countless other acts of violence.
December 5, 2019 -- NEWTOWN, CT -- Imagine being 10 years old and eating alone at a lunch table, surrounded by laughing classmates, and having no one to talk to. Making that uncomfortable, isolating experience a thing of the past is the common goal of the 11 Start With Hello Week School Award-winning schools and districts across the nation.