City violence strikes school communities
As the school year comes to an end, so have four too many lives of Baltimore city students.
Today, the principal of Montebello Elementary/Middle School led a story about a recent spate of violence in the city that has claimed the lives of two Baltimore city students. The most recent incident left one of Montebello's seventh graders clinging to life after he and his friends were shot Tuesday night while watching the NBA playoff game.
Of the four who were shot in that shooting, 12-year-old Sean Johnson, an active student who was academically astute, is the only victim not expected to survive. Among the other victims was a high-school senior who is going to college on a scholarship next year.
Sean will be the youngest victim to succumb to gun violence since 2006, the third Baltimore city student to be slain in the last two weeks, the fourth death of a city school student in the same time period, and hopefully, the last student that school communities will mourn this year.
Dashawn Brown, a 17-year-old junior at Carver Vocational-Technical High School who was enrolled in a carpentry program, was fatally stabbed Sunday; and Marcus Nickens Jr., a 19-year-old junior at Southside Academy, was shot to death May 19. And on May 20, Lishinia Miller, 17, a senior at Excel Academy at Frances M. Wood High School, died when a stolen vehicle in which she was a passenger crashed into a tree on Belair Road.
City schools CEO Andres Alonso somberly acknowledged at the city school board meeting Tuesday, that, "we've been spared this in past years," and that the deaths have undoubtedly added to the angst of the school year's end.
City school officials are worried about the trend as students' time in school draws to an end.
“We believe that young people, while they’re at school, they are safe," said Jonathan Brice, executive director of school support and safety. "We know that the data indicates that violence is going down, but my concern is what happens when kids are out of school for the summer--if they will have opportunity to be involved in productive things that will help them be successful, and hopefully help them stay away from situations that would lead to what we’ve seen recently.”
Montebello Principal Camille Bell gave a powerful interview yesterday, those rare ones that come from raw emotion, strong conviction, and can only be given by a school leader whose job is to protect hundreds of children for the first 18 years of their lives.
Bell, who lost a student last year to H1N1 virus, has faced tragedy before. But to lose a student to violence brings a whole set of emotions, she said.
"It's very hard to lose a student, especially one that you raise," she said. "As a professional, you go through the motions of dealing with it, and making sure everyone is OK. But, nothing prepares you for this. Ever."
Yesterday, Bell spent the day talking with students about their feelings in the wake of Sean's shooting. Many of those conversations involved their brushes with city violence.
“The things that you listen to are heartbreaking," Bell said. "I heard children say, ‘my brother was murdered, my mother was beaten up.’ You hear all of these stories, and these are 11 and 12 year old kids. And I think to myself: ‘Why are things so difficult. Why do their lives have to be so difficult?"
“Our children exist under distress," she said. "...as a community, as a city, we come up with a way to save our children."