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Lesson Plans

Ways to discuss school shootings with students after STEM School and UNCC

May 10, 2019

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the summary, watch the videos and answer the discussion questions below. You may want to turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here. You may stop video at 2m:40s before the sit-down interviews if time is a factor.


Teachers’ note: For guidance on how to talk with students about mass shootings, you may want to read SAMHSA’s “Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers.”


As always, please preview all videos and articles before sharing with your students. 


Summary: The school shooting in Colorado this week has focused our attention again on tragedies happening on campus and periodically in the classroom. Two students at STEM School Highlands Ranch, a outside Denver allegedly opened fire during class on Tuesday, killing another student, 18-year old Kendrick Castillo. In North Carolina, just a few days earlier, two students were killed, Riley Howell, 21, and Ellis “Reed’’ Parker, 19, and four injured by a gunman at UNC Charlotte. It is a familiar story, particularly in Colorado, raising questions of not just what needs to be done to stop the violence, but also how best to prepare for them, and whether that has its own costs for children, for teachers and parents.


Discussion questions:


1) Essential question: What are the psychological and emotional effects of school shootings and active shooter drills on students and teachers?


2) What needs to be done to stop gun violence in America?


3) What mental health services does your school provide? If you are not sure, ask your teacher. What are some steps schools are taking to prepare in the event of a school shooter?


4) Does your school conduct active shooter drills, such as lockdowns? What are the emotional and psychological costs for teachers, students and parents? (This Student Reporting Labs/Above the Noise video investigates this topic.)


5) The vast majority of Americans, regardless of political party, support some form of gun control. Research gun policy proposals in your state and find out what other states have passed similar laws.


6) Media literacy: The National Association of School Psychologists issued a statement urging continued caution in media coverage of school shootings. In this last incident, NASP added:


“We have some concern, though, about the nature and tone of the extensive coverage of and related social media engagement regarding the students who lost their lives by physically engaging with the shooters. Without question, these young people acted selflessly and helped to save lives. They deserve to be honored and remembered. However, we caution against unintentionally glamorizing the extremely high risk of confronting an armed assailant head on, particularly when it involves youth. The words and tone used matter and should not mask or minimize the other reasonable choices that might be made in such a situation or the deep and permanent loss involved. It should be reinforced that other options used, like lockdowns, save lives.”


Discussion questions: NASP recognizes there are many factors that complicate how we process incidents like school shootings. Is your school providing a space for students to talk with school administrators about gun violence? How about issues of mental health? Would you like to see those conversations happen? Why or why not? You may want to find out how your school newspaper is covering the issue, including calls for opinion pieces on behalf of the student body or if reporters are attending school board meetings that are open to the public.


7) Who can you reach out to at your school and at home, if the issues discussed in this lesson or in the news have upset or worried you in any way? If you are not sure, ask your teacher and they will tell you.


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