Retired Columbine principal stresses importance of students’ social-emotional support to Berkeley County school leaders

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 7:42 PM EDT
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SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers and school administrators are busy preparing for another school year, and as they do, school leaders in Berkeley County are going through additional training to help them help students succeed not just academically but also grow emotionally.

As part of district staff’s professional development ahead of the school year, Frank DeAngelis, the now-retired principal of Columbine High School in Colorado where a deadly mass shooting took place in 1999, shared some of the lessons he’s learned since that shooting.

“What I saw happen after Columbine, prior to (it) we were all acting as separate entities. You had the police, they were acting separately from the schools, you had the judicial system, parents, well now we’re coming together because they’re all of our kids and we need to do everything to protect them.”

One of the most important of those is how crucial it is to build relationships with students, parents and teachers before tragedy strikes.

Building those relationships is key so those people feel more comfortable bringing up any red flags, and they’re also crucial, he said, in the event of some of hardships so school communities can lean on each other.

Berkeley Elementary School Principal Kelly Gabriel stressed that point as well.

“When you’ve got those great relationships with kids, they will trust you,” she said, “and when you get kids to trust you and respect you, they will tell you things they may not tell their parents, so they give you insights into their lives and what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling, and a lot of times those are ways that we’re able to then see those red flags.”

Another aspect he focused on is the importance of helping meet students’ social-emotional needs. He said while there’s a lot of focus on curriculum, especially now after the pandemic, teachers need to have the tools to help students feel welcomed back in the classroom.

“The kids that were here two years ago prior to the pandemic – back in January of 2020 – are not the same kids returning, and these teachers, they want to help kids but we need to give the teachers the skill to help these kids,” he said.

Christopher Swetckie, the principal at Howe Hall AIMS, agreed.

“We certainly hope that we never have to deal with situations like this, but we have to prepare for the worst, but more importantly especially this time of year as we’re preparing to re-establish the new normal, making sure that we’re putting safety, security and just the health and emotional well-being of our students front and center,” he said.

School leaders who sat through the presentation said they are planning to take those lessons with them as they head back to class in just a few short weeks.

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