Shootings stir worry in Colorado schools

We care about your safety, and we want to help you and your family cope.

That was the tenor of email blasts that many Colorado school districts sent to families Friday after learning that a gunman had shot and killed nearly 30 people – many of them children – at a Connecticut elementary school. Some schools also beefed up campus security.

A memorial to the students and teacher slain in a mass shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.

News of the tragedy was bound to frighten children and worry parents  – especially coming only months after the murder of 12 people inside an Aurora movie theater.

“Although this is an isolated event that happened far away from Aurora Public Schools, news of this nature – especially in light of the summer tragedy in our city – may be disturbing for students and families,” read Aurora Public Schools’ statement. “If your children express concern, please reassure them that they are safe.”

Boulder Valley’s message struck a similar tone, also referencing a recent tragedy nearby: the murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway after she was abducted on her way to school in Westminster.

“The news of this morning’s shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut can be extremely unsettling for both children and parents as we may recall from a local tragedy this past fall,” read part of an email sent to families with children in Boulder Valley Schools.

Some school leaders, such as Dougco’s Superintendent Liz Fagen, sent notes to school staff.

“This horrifying event impacts all of us who have children and/or who care for children each day in our schools,” she wrote. “Frankly, it leaves me brokenhearted and sick to my stomach.”

Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis, who was principal when 15 people were killed at his school, including the two student shooters, had a similar reaction.

“It just takes me back to what we felt on April 20, 1999,” he said. “Just emotionally anyone alive during that time or in schools during that time … it just takes us back to that horrific day.” (View video of DeAngelis statement here.)

Districts reinforce safety measures

Districts offered tips on how to talk to children when a tragic event happens. And they offered the support of counseling services for students, staff and families. They also reminded the community of their desire to keep students and staff safe.

The message to Colorado Springs District 11 families also emphasized the safety measures the district has in place.

“Please know that our top priority in District 11 is student and staff safety,” it read. “As you know, our schools are locked during school hours and everyone entering must check in at the main office of all D11 schools. We have district security that routinely walk the grounds of all of our schools.”

The Cherry Creek district put all its schools “on a heightened level of supervision” Friday.

“You will notice an increased and visible police presence in your neighborhoods and community schools,” reads the note featured prominently on top of the district’s website.

The reason for the increased police presence is to “have a visible deterrence for a potential or perceived criminal act” and “to continue to foster and perpetuate an environment where our children, teachers, administrators, and other community members feel safe, specifically while driving to and from schools and while at school.” District officials made it clear that no credible threat had been received.

As a final note, the district asked parents to limit children’s exposure to TV coverage and social media posts about the mass shooting.

Aurora also beefed up police presence at schools and reminded parents of its numerous school security measures, including lockdown and evacuation plans and drills, strong visitor monitoring, security cameras, participation in emergency drills with other agencies and its system for communicating with parents.

And, the Jeffco Public Schools offered words of sympathy to those families suffering in Connecticut:

We join the rest of the country in offering our deepest sympathy to the families who have lost their precious children. 

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”