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School Shootings in America

The number of school shootings and other forms of school violence such as harassment and bullying are on the rise. The good news is that schools can implement effective strategies and programs shown to prevent school violence.

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Whitepaper

Youth mental health threats are illuminating a significant need for actionable solutions for students in a post-pandemic world. 

Read our State of Youth Mental Health Report

Causes and Prevention

The first step toward preventing traumatic events from occurring in our schools is to nurture a safe, inclusive, cohesive, and supportive learning environment. 

By actively enlisting the students themselves in creating a positive school climate and culture, students learn to care about themselves and others. This positive action, combined with access to mental health resources, creates a foundation of violence prevention.

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Why Do School Shootings Happen?

Violence in schools can manifest in many forms, all of which are destructive and can lead to escalation. It rarely starts with deadly actions; school shootings are the endpoint of bullying, not the beginning. And most bullying is linked to a set of common root causes.

Trauma – past or present – is a key indicator. People with trauma resulting from abuse, neglect, or other negative experiences are far more likely to express violence towards others, or to be affected seriously themselves by bullying. This often creates a negative feedback loop, where a person’s actions towards others generates negative responses, causing further isolation and a deeper sense of rejection.

Isolation is another strong contributing factor. In fact, the CDC has identified isolation and loneliness as the primary cause of self-harm and a contributing factor in bullying behavior. When people are cut off from family, friends, and peers, they are more susceptible to the level of despair and hopelessness that feeds violent ideation.

Years of pain, isolation and anger can aggregate, culminating in a breaking point. School shootings can be the result. Often shooters are students or ex-students, and are reacting to experiences connected to the school.

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown further amplified these issues. Increased isolation resulted in a lack of opportunities for students to hone vital emotional and social skills and connect with others. 

This deficit is evident in statistics showing a decline in mental health, school attendance, and an increase in violence and self-harm, especially suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death (behind injury) among youth. 

Causes of School Shootings

One of the most significant – and startling – school shooting statistics is the fact that 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying.

Almost 300,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools every month in the U.S. Shockingly, 100,000 students carry guns to school every day in America.

More than 160,000 students in the country skip school each day because of bullying, and 80% of kids who are bullied at school report that it affects their ability to learn and feel safe there.

This data suggests that bullying is a is a significant cause of school shootings – and while there are many other factors, it is at least one that can be addressed directly. 

 

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Mental Health and School Shootings

Bullying and harassment often stem from isolation, depression, and mental health disorders. About 32% of teens aged 13 to 18 are affected with an anxiety disorder, and 13% are diagnosed with depression. About 25% of teenagers in the U.S. have a mental health disorder.

The CDC recognizes that social skills, emotional skills, connectedness, acceptance, and resilience are critical components of bringing about change to school environments.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can help prevent school shootings from happening by helping students learn how to handle everything from social isolation to the disruption in routine associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trauma of the pandemic can result in mental health problems that, without SEL, students are unequipped to deal with. 

When children are unable to handle overpowering pandemic-related emotions, which can include anger, fear, and frustration, deadly violence can result as their attempts to cope fail.

Local access to mental health resources and programs are paramount to address this issue. 

Gun Violence Prediction and Prevention

There have been 231 school shootings in the US since the Columbine shooting. Rachel’s Challenge has prevented 8 school shootings as corroborated by law enforcement. Our mission is to end all school shootings.

Some school violence prevention measures do not address the root causes of violence in schools. School shootings are a mental health crisis. We must address feelings of desperation and suicidal thoughts in our youth. Prevention starts at the individual level.

It’s vital to recognize that the majority of people who have a mental illness do not pose a danger to others. For those who are at risk for violence, mental health treatment can provide alternatives to the use of violence with a firearm.

Unfortunately, statistics show that up to 75% of people who suffer from mental illness never get treatment. Access to mental health care is grossly insufficient in the U.S., and this is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed by the government.

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How to Prevent School Shootings Through SEL

Students must be taught strategies to effectively identify, confront, and resolve emotional conflict within themselves and between themselves and others. These learned behaviors are modeled to young people in their homes, at school, and in society at large.

Social-emotional learning initiatives, such as those offered by Rachel’s Challenge, help children develop impulse control skills, empathy, anger management, healthy coping mechanisms, and problem-solving tactics that will help them when they are faced with conflict or challenges.

SEL programs and lessons that focus on teaching students skills to manage their emotions are proven to reduce aggression. Suicidal thoughts decrease with “connectedness” or human connection, which some SEL-based programs such as those offered by Rachel’s Challenge, increase. Suspensions and threatening incidents between students can also decrease with access to social-emotional learning programs.

Improvement in emotional regulation and even academic performance are also linked with programs that focus on social-emotional learning.

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Social-Emotional Learning Programs

When SEL programs are implemented in schools all students are targeted, not just a specific group or individual. SEL instruction takes a proactive approach to address the social and emotional needs by teaching students to recognize triggers and to choose appropriate tools to solve problems.

The possibility to stop school shootings begins by implementing social-emotional learning programs. One of the most effective and well-received school-based SEL programs is Rachel’s Challenge.

Rachel’s Challenge trains school staff on how to teach students about problem-solving, self-regulation, and social interactions. It’s a proven SEL program that promotes the positive attitudes and social skills children need to connect to others, protect themselves when necessary and shield others from harmful behaviors. Mitigating these harmful behaviors requires a safe, inclusive learning environment in which students learn relationship-building and connectedness. When students feel connected, they are less likely to hurt themselves or others. 

These and other protective factors are the best tools we have to prevent school shootings in America.

For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, contact Rachel’s Challenge now.

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Rachel’s Challenge has helped me continue my chain reaction an entire decade later. Today, as I cultivate my “save the world gene” as a young professional, I am reminded of where it began. With kindness and compassion.”

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Participant

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Rachel’s Challenge is the most powerful intervention I’ve seen in my 40 years of educational research.”

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Educator, Researcher, Author

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Rachel’s Challenge stimulates academic and social emotional-learning by focusing on the connection between students, faculties and staff.”

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Principal, Rice Lake High School

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