The unexpected risk of schools in America


Kate Wattleworth and Ada Farmer with their Argentine exchange students at the airport.

Mercer Blanco, Op/ed Editor

 This fall, RJ Reynolds was home again to eight Argentinian high school students. These students came to our community to experience high school as American teenagers. That experience included attending school, learning in the classroom, participating in extracurricular activities, and attending the many social events they could with new friends and host families. One aspect of American teenage life that they did not immediately expect to witness or experience was violence during the school day. 

    To many of us at R.J. Reynolds High School, it may seem as if violence has increased since we returned to in-class learning after the COVID-19 Pandemic. Many of us experienced the fear and sadness that came with the violence of the shooting at Mt. Tabor High School last fall. Additionally, we have undergone numerous lockdowns, new security protocols such as wanding and metal detectors at sporting events, and even lunchtime fighting on campus. Despite what may seem like an uptick in violence at school, our Student Resource Officer Mickens disagrees. 

    “I definitely feel like violent incidents have decreased this fall versus last year,” Mickens said. “When something happens, I try to de-escalate the situation and speak positively to the students and create a trusting relationship.”

    There was even an incident early this year already at the Career Center. It did not occur on campus or involve WSFCS students, yet it still impacted the day and the sense of security on campus. 

    “It was a hold, not a lockdown,” Leigh Munley, AP European History teacher at the Career Center, said. “It was obvious the event was occurring outside of the building. I followed protocol by locking the door and calling the principal and the SRO. The decision was made to put students in “hold” so that students wouldn’t be walking between buildings. We have been trained how to handle a situation like this, and I felt like I knew exactly what to do. I feel very safe working at the Career Center.”

    In light of these incidents, we are reminded that going to school is not without risk; some Argentinian students were surprised at the potential for a violent incident during the school day.   

    “School is pretty normal in Argentina,” foreign exchange student Elizabeth Yvonne said. “The biggest difference between your school and ours is that students don’t rotate classes. Instead, teacher rotates. The most violence my school suffers is bullying, but I have never seen it turn into physical violence yet. To be honest, I feel more afraid of America’s schools. I personally could see much more violence here than I usually might see at my school. This was really shocking at first; we also never suffer any lockdown as I did here.” 

    It is the hope of all students and staff, including RJR students, our skilled SROs, and teachers like Ms. Munley, that we can continue to improve our safety protocols and look out for each other to keep our schools a safe space.