Teach Students Empathy and Awareness

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As They Head Back to School

Written By: Nicole Hockley


With back-to-school upon us, we all know how important it is to ensure students are prepped with the essentials, such as notebooks and pens. However, with the rise of school shootings, we must also prepare our kids with empathy, awareness, and the overall knowledge of what to do in the event they come across someone exhibiting at-risk behaviors – these actions can be life-saving.


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In the first six months of 2018, we witnessed over 20 school shootings across the country, including the devastating mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, TX. In Parkland, we heard students say that they weren’t surprised that the shooter carried out the attack due to signs in his behavior.

On average, 80 percent of school shooters tell someone about their violent plans prior to carrying out the act and 70 percent of people who complete suicide told someone about their plans or gave some type of warning.  Stats like these prove why it is critical to teach students and adults to Know the Signs.  Students know their school community best, as they often see and hear things that adults might overlook – especially on social media. Sandy Hook Promise’s four Know the Signs programs teach students and adults how to identify, intervene, and get help for an individual BEFORE they hurt themselves or others.

 Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American teenagers. Our program Signs of Suicide Prevention trains teachers on how to spot warning signs of depression and youth suicide. Suicide is preventable, and we want to make sure that students who need help are able to access it in a timely manner.

Sandy Hook Promise created the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System (SS-ARS), a platform that allows students to speak up and report an anonymous tip 24/7 via the app, website, or phone hotline without fear and get help for at-risk individuals. The SS-ARS platform is managed by a national digital leader in the school safety space and a multi-lingual crisis center. Each tip is assessed by threat level and forwarded to the appropriate school officials and law enforcement.

Through the SS-ARS platform, there have been numerous shooting plots, suicides, and other acts of violence that have been averted thanks to brave students who stood up and Said Something.


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 Youth are more desensitized to violence than ever, and instilling empathy is imperative. Our Start with Hello program teaches students that the simple act of greeting a peer could change lives. Schools that have rolled this program out have reported a dramatic decrease in bullying and creation of an overall inclusive community.

 Following Parkland, there has been a great deal of conversation about arming teachers and school administrators. However, there are better alternatives than placing any weapon in classrooms. Our Safety Assessment & Intervention program trains teachers and school administrators on how to identify and treat an underlying issue in an at-risk student’s life.

 While one warning sign on its own may not mean a person is planning an act of violence, if multiple warning signs are witnessed, it should be taken seriously.

Some signs that students, educators, and parents to be aware of are:

 • A strong fascination with firearms.

• Exhibiting aggressive behavior for seemingly minor reasons.

• A shift in academic performance.

• Extreme feelings of isolation/social withdrawal due to real/perceived actions of others.

• Making overt threats of violence (spoken, written, pictures, videos, gestures).



All of the programs offered through Sandy Hook Promise are available at no cost to schools and help to drive our mission: prevent gun violence BEFORE it happens.

 For this upcoming school year, let’s create a safe environment in our schools by taking proactive measures and adding gun violence prevention to the top of our back-to-school checklist.

To learn more about Sandy Hook Promise and its proven programs, please visit SandyHookPromise.org.