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Thousands of Tri-Valley students at elementary, middle, and high schools in Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton, and Sunol appealed to the community during the National School Walkout on March 14, 2018. The ceremonies marked one month after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Pictured, students at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton gathered along Santa Rita Road, observing 17 minutes of silence to honor each of the victims who lost their lives. (Photo - Doug Jorgensen)

The first anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., shootings that killed 14 students and three staff members, and injured 17 others at Stoneman Douglas High School, arrives on Feb. 14. The Valley is remembering the tragedy in active ways.

The Parkland massacre, one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, galvanized students at the high school to create a gun violence reform group called Never Again.

The Valley’s Congressman, Eric Swalwell, invited Never Again founder Cameron Kasky to attend President Trump’s State of the Union message Feb. 5.

Swalwell notes, “Cameron and I discussed our deep disappointment that the President completely neglected to discuss gun violence in his State of the Union address. With American bodies piling up by the day, it’s a real national emergency, yet he refuses to say a word about it.”

“But young activists like Cameron won’t sit down and be quiet – they’re determined to ensure that what has happened to victims and survivors of mass shootings doesn’t keep happening to more people. The House is moving forward with our bill to require background checks for all gun purchases, and I’ll be introducing my own firearms legislation soon.”

SCHOOLS HELP KIDS IDENTIFY THEIR FEELINGS

Recognizing the importance of educating children and teen-agers to deal with gun violence issues, the Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin school districts have adopted nationally designed programs for educators in the past several years to help kids discover their emotions and learn about the feelings of others. Generally these programs are known as Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).

The identity of the suspect in the Parkland killings, a 19-year old former Stoneman Douglas student, led to research regarding the cause of violence in young people. Police said that the student admitted to the crimes. He faces 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. In the fall, he was also charged with assaulting a jail guard and stealing his taser gun.

Police in Parkland are investigating "a pattern of disciplinary issues and unnerving behavior,” the Washington Post reported on the day after the killings.

Peter DeWitt, a nationally recognized former K-5 principal, an educational consultant, wrote in his blog on the Education Week website about the importance of SEL.

Quoting such sources as the American Psychiatric Association, National Institute of Mental Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DeWitt said that one-half of all chronic mental health conditions begin by age 14. One-half of all lifetime cases of anxiety disorders begin as early as age 8. Those with a psychiatric disability are three times more likely to be involved in criminal justice activities. Nationally, one in 12 high school students attempts suicide during a year.

FOR LIVERMORE SCHOOL DISTRICT, IT’S ‘CHOOSE LOVE’

The Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) has adopted the “Choose Love” program, which it integrates in all levels of the district. Choose Love was launched nationally by Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.

The murderer, Adam Lanza, killed his mother first, then traveled to Sandy Hook, where he once was a student, and killed 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10. Then he turned the gun on himself.

Jesse Lewis was a hero. He warned nine children to leave the classroom, as the murderer was reloading his gun. Jesse was not able to get out. His mother put the title “Choose Love” on the curriculum that she has brought to many, because after the tragedy, she looked at a chalkboard at home. Jesse had written three words on the board: “Nurturing. Healing. Love.”

“I knew immediately that if Adam Lanza had received nurturing, healing, love, this never would have happened,” Lewis said in a newspaper story last October.

Lewis wrote in a story that if Jesse could display such courage at Sandy Hook, then she could share the three words that show "compassion across all cultures.”

The entire Livermore district participates in “Choose Love,” at all grade levels. LVJUSD spokesperson Philomena Rambo explained in a statement the importance of SEL to education. Teachers and administrators have known for a long time that social and emotional skills are better predictors of success in life than intelligence or academic competence.

More recently, neuropsychology has measured brain benefits further, finding results that can lead to an improvement in school performance and work habits, and a reduction in aggression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health issues.

At Rancho Elementary School, students have been learning to take a Brave Breath, which helps them deal with frustration. Students at Junction K-8 school discussed the courage demonstrated by the late Sen. John McCain while he was held prisoner for six years during the Vietnam War.

In an English class at Granada High School, Choose Love was incorporated into a Shakespeare lesson.

Rambo said that 98% of educators who have used Choose Love across the country reported seeing improvement in classroom climate and personal behavior. Some 83% of teachers said that students were getting along better with others, and had a more positive attitude. Two out of three educators said their students’ academic performance improved.

The Livermore district sees Choose Love as a process that will continue to evolve.

The district also uses the At Home part of Choose Love for parents. They learn the neuroscience and character values of the program, so that they can model those aspects for their children.

PUSD BOOSTS VIGILENCE, HAS SEL PROGRAM

The Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) uses an SEL known as Second Step, geared toward K-8 students. Many of the district’s elementary schools use the program, said district spokesperson Patrick Gannon.

Like other SELs, Second Step uses age-appropriate lessons to instill important emotional development skills, such as fair ways to play, how to calm down, steps in problem solving and talking about feelings.

The district’s social workers conducted SEL training with vice-principals to help them create healthy learning environments. The social workers have developed a library of resources on the district website covering a variety of topics; many relate to SEL.

For the past five years, PUSD has been implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) - a school-wide system of support that includes strategies for defining, teaching, modeling, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments. PBIS emphasizes a school environment where students and school staff are safe, responsible, and respectful.

The district organized a safety team comprised of district and school site administrators who meet monthly to discuss emergency preparedness and safety efforts.

The group was expanded this year to include student and parent/guardian representatives.

The district played host to two school safety training sessions for school principals and vice-principals, and a third for all employees.

DUBLIN HAS KIMOCHIS TO SHOW THE WAY

The Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) uses an SEL called Kimochis, which are small stuffed figures that are labeled with different emotions. It works well with small children, who learn to identify different moods from the figures.

Cloud is moody. Kids learn how to regulate their tone of voice, body language, and words and actions, according to the Kimochi website.

Bug is a caterpillar that is afraid of change, but good at analyzing things. He helps kids learn how to be brave and overcome fears.

These and the other figures are used in service to the 4th R that is included in Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Relationships.

Another emotional support offered by DUSD is called Capturing Kids Hearts. The teacher training program is designed to help build relationships among a school’s educational community. The training shows them how to create high-achieving centers of learning by strengthening students’ connections with others, according to DUSD spokesperson Charles Dehnert.

Integrity in Action involves another DUSD program that supports emotional development. It resembles Pleasanton’s Community of Character in that it recognizes students and others in the community who are good examples of various positive character traits each month.

A variation on it crafted two years ago involves Dubversity, a one-week celebration on the Dublin High School campus. Students and faculty honor Dublin’s diversity. They attend events hosted by various cultural groups on campus.

An assembly encourages students to talk about their personal experiences with discrimination, and express their hopes for creating a more inclusive community for all students.

The screening of the movie “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety,” at the Dublin High School Performing Arts Center takes place March 11.

Dehnert said the goal is to start a community dialogue about anxiety. The movie interviews youths who talk about the impact that anxiety has had on their lives, and the solutions and hope that they have found.