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All Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools went into “secure mode” after a UNC faculty member was shot on campus on Aug. 28 — the first day of the school for the district.

Students today have grown up experiencing active shooter drills and seeing incidents of gun violence in classrooms across the country. In 2023 alone, there have been 86 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the United States, according to the Everytown Support Fund.

Andy Jenks, the chief communications officer for CHCCS, said students everywhere have been impacted in some way by the threat of gun violence in schools.

Jenks said one of the major ways CHCCS has handled the mental health repercussions for students has been to ensure that all students have access to a trusted adult who is trained to discuss issues and concerns so no one feels alone in the school environment.

According to the American Psychological Association, students today have begun to show an increase in anxiety levels surrounding the fear of a shooting happening at their school.

“I think the impacts are profound, but they're also unique,” Jenks said. “And one thing that our folks tend to do is to target their support to the specific and unique needs of our students on a daily basis.”

Paige Clarke, a mental health specialist who works with McDougle Elementary School and McDougle Middle School, said students' reactions to gun violence in schools are twofold — that while some students had a heightened emotional response to the events of the UNC shooting, other students were desensitized to the violence.

Clarke also said she provided mental health support in the aftermath of the UNC shooting by informing the staff of both schools on the variety of responses students may have. 

To help students process their different emotions, CHCCS works with an outside agency that provides licensed clinical therapy to students with parental consent, she said.

“If we have something happening where a student is distressed or is really feeling some intense emotions, we're able to respond and speak with students, work through things, practice some things that might help them cope during that time,” Clarke said.

She said it is also important for parents to have conversations with their children at home to help them process their emotions. She said it is okay for students to be stressed and sad because the shooting was an inherently stressful and sad event.

“It's trying to find that fine line between not being desensitized to it and also not being paralyzed with some of those intense anxiety feelings because, unfortunately at the state that things are, we live in a world where these things are going to potentially continue to happen,” she said.

Weldon Bullock III, another mental health specialist with CHCCS, said conversations around mental health in the wake of the shooting should be delicately handled so they will not cause more anxiety. He said paying attention to the best way to support each individual is crucial because everybody has their own personal trauma and experiences.

With the accumulation of stressors like the COVID-19 pandemic or getting into college, Bullock said there has been an increase in anxiety levels among students.

He also said sensitive groups of students in CHCCS have become a team to try to figure out the best way to support each other. While Bullock said conversations about school shootings are uncomfortable, people need to come together to try and understand.

“Those who show their fear and those who may not show their fear as much have a level of brace where we try to understand each other and remember everybody wants to live at the end of the day, and everybody wants to feel safe, and try to be supportive in our approach,” he said.


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