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How a school shooting is changing the way Elon trains future teachers


ithin the final minutes of her high school senior English class, Elon University senior and student teacher Annaliese Jaffe noticed her students’ attention drifting to the incessant buzzing of their phones.

This is not an uncommon occurrence after reading the fourth act of Hamlet for 90 minutes, but as her seniors from Alamance-Burlington Middle College began to pack up and Jaffe began to prepare her grammar lesson for her sophomores, she noticed fearful looks exchanged between her students as seniors filed out and sophomores filed in.

“What’s up, guys?” she asked.

Her students informed her that a neighboring school, Eastern Alamance High School, was experiencing a lockdown. Whether the lockdown was a drill was unknown to both Jaffe and her students. But as texts spread between the students at Alamance-Burlington and their friends inside Eastern Alamance, fear spread as well.

“When I heard my kids say they were scared to be in school I got so upset,” Jaffe said. “After, I explained the situation and they started taking a test — I sat down and realized I was also scared. But also furious because my kids were scared. That was when it really hit me, when I was in school and my kids were scared about it.”

It was Feb. 16, only two days after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead. Jaffe had no direct ties to the shooting or its victims, but that didn’t stop the all-too-familiar pain from surfacing.

“It was awful to hear about, but it was a similar feeling to the emotions that I felt after every school shooting that has happened,” Jaffe said.

But the Parkland massacre wasn’t like previous school shootings — this one was different.

Senior Annaliese Jaffe hands out Hamlet books to her senior English class on March 2 at Alamance-Burlington Middle College. [Anton L. Delgado | Enterprise Story Coordinator]


Jaffe is one of 50 student teachers from the School of Education currently working in one of 21 schools within driving range of the campus.

According to the 2018 Spring Registrar’s report, there are 257 Elon students with a major within the School of Education. To graduate, students have to student teach in schools in the surrounding community to complete their engaged learning model requirement.

All of these students may face similar situations to the one Jaffe faced in February — a scenario the School of Education is beginning to prepare its students for.

Before the massacre at Parkland, the School of Education hadn’t anticipated the need to adapt its curriculum to include school safety measures.

Following the school shootings that took place in 2017 and during the first few months of 2018, there were discussions about whether school safety should become a part of the School of Education’s curriculum. But no official step toward such precautions had been made.

“I thought about it as part of our curriculum because there are trainings that are now happening in school systems around school safety,” said Ann Bullock, dean of the School of Education. “But at Elon, we had not integrated it into the curriculum — that doesn’t mean it wasn’t talked about in individual classes.”

According to Bullock, after Parkland things needed to be changed. The way the shooting occurred, in her opinion, was different from the others.

“It was a student that was expelled from the school and showed no signs of doing something like that, then just walked in and did it,” Bullock said. “Students make mistakes and get suspended from schools. I don’t want my teachers to feel that they can’t discipline a child or a young adolescent if they need to because they are worried that they might come back to school with a gun.”

The Parkland shooting showed Bullock that the safety measures they were taught in the past wouldn’t be enough.

“Teachers are taught to lock the door and get under desks — well, this guy just shot through the door,” Bullock said. “The strategies we now have are not ones that are really viable. So what are the best strategies? I don’t know the answer to that, which is why we need to bring in experts.”

Bullock wasn’t the only member of the School of Education that came to this realization following Parkland. In the days after the shooting, — similarly to what has happened in the past — professors sat down with their education classes to talk about the deadly massacre.

“This is a very teachable moment in time, not to teach a one-sided or unthinking response, but to support students in the very thing we claim to be educating them for — responsible civic engagement in a democratic society,” said Kim Pyne, associate professor of English, who sat down to discuss the Parkland shooting with students such as senior Ben Rogers, president of the School of Education ambassadors.

But for the first time, the post-school shooting discussion didn’t end with just words.

Within the first few weeks after Spring Break, Rogers and Bullock are hoping to host a panel focused on specific strategies teachers, staff members and administrators can take in a scenario in which an intruder enters their schools.

“Every school is different,” Rogers said. “As future teachers, we don’t know what type of safety features will be in our classrooms. It’s going to be good to have these people educate us on the various resources that we have and to prepare us for various situations.”

Not only as a dean, but also as a fellow educator, Bullock is most focused on preparing current students for situations such as these in their future teaching professions.

“People shouldn’t be scared to be a teacher and children shouldn’t be scared to be at schools. That’s not what childhood should be like for young adolescents, but it has become a reality,” Bullock said. “I just don’t want to know that one day an Elon graduate is in a school and something horrific happened and I didn’t do something to help prepare them.”

[Stephanie Hays | Design Chief]

Taylor Cesarski, a 2017 graduate from the School of Education with a degree in mathematics and a teacher licensure, entered the teaching profession before the Parkland massacre. She is currently teaching at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh.

“I had some classes that had conversations centered around violence in schools but had no actual simulations or other trainings,” Cesarski said. “But when I was there, Parkland hadn’t happened yet.”

While Elon didn’t focus on training her to deal with active shooter situations, she doesn’t believe any school could ever really prepare teachers for that.

“No teacher in the country would ever feel 100 percent prepared in that sort of scenario, no matter the training,” Cesarski said. “But Elon gave us the space to be people first and teachers second, which prepared me to be the best person for my kids and the best teacher.”

Current students in the School of Education are looking forward to the panel on school safety, hoping that attending will make them feel more prepared for an active shooter situation.

One of those students is senior Sophie Gangemi, who is majoring in elementary education and is currently student teaching at B. Everett Jordan Elementary School in Saxapahaw.

Following the Parkland shooting, Gangemi had a discussion about the shooting in her senior seminar class — but that’s where the conversation ended.

“These situations need to be addressed, especially how to handle them,” Gangemi said. “If — God forbid — it was happening in a school I am working at or a classroom setting I am in, I want to be able to get my students out of that situation. It would be nice to think things are going to change, but realistically until gun control changes nothing is going to change.”

But saving students in a situation such as Parkland isn’t the only thing future teachers at Elon want to be trained for.

Jaffe agrees being trained more for an active shooter on campus will help, but she hopes the training won’t end there.

“What I really need to be trained for is how to deal with and handle this fear with my students,” Jaffe said. “We really need to be trained in how we are going to handle when our kids are scared about things that are happening in other places.

There needs to be both. What do I do when my kids are freaking out because of their friends in other schools?”

Both Jaffe and Gangemi will be graduating in May and joining Cesarski in a world changed by the Parkland shooting.

Cesarski believes her alma mater needs to set an example by supporting schools such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“Education is a community and we need to stand up for students across America and let them know that this is not how it is supposed to be,” Cesarski said. “You are not supposed to live in fear at school. Elon needs to show support and take a stand and say that it is not okay and that they support victims of school violence — not only to set an example to the country, but also to its own students.”

Junior Lauren Ventresca fills an envelope addressed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with handwritten letters of support March 2. [Anton L. Delgado | Enterprise Story Coordinator]

"It is important that other schools know we are looking out for them. That could have happened in a school I teach at, that is the reality of today."
Lauren Ventresca

Supporting Parkland

More than 1,000 miles separate Marjory Stoneman Douglas from Elon, but the School of Education decided to make the stand of solidarity that Cesarski referred to.

“Our students have been having a lot of conversation in their classes about the shootings and school violence and of course what we can do to help,” said Allison Bryan, director of the curriculum resource center.

While scrolling through her Twitter feed, Bryan saw tweets from faculty members working in Marjory Stoneman Douglas saying their students could use moral support from outside of the Parkland community.

The next day, Bryan started working with faculty and students to write letters to the survivors of the school shooting to offer the requested support.

“We thought that was something we could do to feel like we were helping and also help us process and think about what happened,” Bryan said. “Just so that future teachers and educators here can show support to the student and the staff of that community — so they know we are thinking about them and working to make sure things like this don’t happen in our school as well.”

On March 2, Bryan and several students addressed an envelope filled with handwritten letters and sent it to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Junior Lauren Ventresca who participated in the card-writing is an elementary and special education major who hopes her small gesture will go a long way for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“In education, relationships are important,” Ventresca said. “Teachers and students need to feel loved and appreciated. It is important that other schools know we are looking out for them. That could have happened in a school I teach at, that is the reality of today.”

While Ventresca believes writing a letter “shows caring and a logical way of helping,” she knows it won’t solve school shootings overnight. But, in her opinion, neither will the solution that is currently being debated in Washington.

The national debate

The debates have not amounted to a universal solution, but one of the ideas currently being contemplated is arming teachers and administrators on campuses nationwide.

On Feb. 24, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again - a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.”

This tweet not only sparked the ongoing debate in the nation’s capital, but also on Elon’s campus. And while politicians seem to be in disagreement, many members in the School of Education seem to be on the same page.

“To expect teachers to wear a gun or have a gun in their classroom, to me, is an unrealistic expectation and one that puts us in a militant society in a place where it should be an open and caring learning environment,” Bullock said.

Elon administrators and student teachers seem to be in agreement that this solution cannot come to fruition.

“I really disagree with the idea of arming teachers,” Jaffe said. “By normalizing guns it’s just making the problem worse.

If teachers were armed with guns that would just add to the need for guns and that’s ridiculous. It’s not the answer.”

Some fear this solution will have a negative effect on the profession of education.

“A teacher’s job is to teach, not to hold a gun or to police a school,” Rogers said. “The overall strength of teachers will weaken with this idea that they have to be police.”

The thought of the responsibilities of being a teacher also including protecting students from active shooters terrifies some current and future teachers.

“As a teacher, I understand that I have a duty to protect my students, and I know I would do anything to keep them safe,” Cesarski said. “But that sometimes means not all teachers go home at the end of the day, and that’s not supposed to be part of the job.”

This is a prospect that is becoming more real for soon-to-be teachers.

“The thought of having to sacrifice my life for a student hasn’t made me not want to be a teacher, but it has made me realize that this is so serious,” Jaffe said. “Teaching is a job you put so much passion and care and love into that it’s crazy to think that your life could be at risk. From what we’ve seen on the news, teachers don’t run — teachers stand in front of the bullet to save their kids and that is terrifying.”