Archive for Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ensuring our support system works for teens

April 26, 2006

In tiny Riverton -- nestled in the southeast corner of Kansas, a stone's throw from both Oklahoma and Missouri -- the news last week was unbelievable.

Authorities say five Riverton High School students, ages 16 to 18, had planned a shooting rampage at their school. The plot, in which the students had planned to don black trench coats and disable the school's camera system before starting the attack, was discovered and the teens were arrested. The youths had planned to mark the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre with a massacre of their own.

As one would expect, most of the 600 residents of Riverton were shocked by the discovery. It's likely they initially thought the entire thing was being blown out of proportion.

But it's likely they changed their minds as details about the planned attack unfolded. Sheriff's deputies found guns, ammunition, knives and coded messages at one teen's bedroom, and documents about firearms along with references to Armageddon were discovered in two of the young suspects' school lockers.

What would lead young people to devise a brutal attack on fellow students, their teachers and school staff?

While it will be some time before answers emerge, it's highly likely those young people were disenfranchised. The reasons for their disconnection probably are many.

Any school employee -- nurses, superintendents, cooks, teachers, janitors and school bus drivers -- knows how important it is for our students to be involved, to have their days and some nights filled with meaningful and rewarding activities.

High school is not fun or rewarding for some teens. On the contrary, it can be a horrible experience, one to be endured.

It's likely there will be plenty of blame to go around as we discover more about these five Riverton teens. We'll hear stories about warning signs that were ignored. We'll hear stories about how these students were treated and how they treated others.

And we'll hear that each of these five students must take responsibility for hatching a mind-boggling, horrible plan of attack.

And it's true: They must take responsibility.

And so should everyone else.

One can't help but wonder if this would have gotten as far as it did if someone -- anyone -- had taken each of those youngsters by the hand and engaged them in some sort of meaningful activity. If Mr. Van or Mrs. Steeby had been able to spark interest in music. If Mr. Elston had been able to drag them into football practice. If Mr. Woolf could have helped them see the reasons for good citizenship.

We have such a terrific support system for our children here in Tonganoxie. We must ensure that support system is there for every child. Because it's not the happy, involved students who think it's a good idea to take guns to school and start shooting.

Rather, those acts are carried out by students who, for whatever reason, have disconnected from life.

Let's pledge we will do everything we can to ensure that doesn't describe any of our young people.

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