Facing the StormApr 01, 2018
Students and administrators in the future will read history books about how today's students and administrators handle the unique pressures that are faced in our schools.
High school students nationwide are facing unique and dynamic pressures from social media and school shootings. On top of those, the students in our state are processing multiple conflicts concerning the education system. And the students in our city are carrying all of those pressures into storm season.
These stressors are obviously a lot to manage, and it would take a concerted effort from administrators and students to handle them well. That’s exactly where Dr. Robert Romines, the Superintendent of Moore Public Schools (MPS), started.
About a year ago, Romines began facilitating conversations between students and administrators by creating focus groups with students from every high school in Moore.
“I’m not going to say those conversations were easy. They were hard,” Romines said. “But we needed to hear how we could do better.”
This was where students in Moore were able to voice their opinions about school shootings, social media, strikes, and storms. It took them some time to warm up to a vulnerable honesty, but once they did, practical changes took place.
“I think things have changed a great deal,” Romines said. “Not overnight, though. It took some time to open up. But once the floodgates opened, the students were very honest.”
Since the introduction of those focus groups, MPS has created job descriptions for counselors that are capable of providing help for students who struggle with mental health issues.
“For me, after talking with students, it’s about taking care of the mind,” Romines said. “A healthy mind is what we needed to focus on, and that was even before the school shooting in Florida.”
MPS has been taking steps to deal with pressures students are facing for a long time. Many of those measures were tested on February 14 of this year when 17 people were killed during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I feel like that could happen to any school,” Hope Davis, Moore High School sophomore, said.
Davis isn’t the only one thinking about school shootings this way. Westmoore High School senior Carson Curtis shares the concern.
“It’s almost like this has become regular, and you’re wondering when the next school shooting is going to happen,” Curtis said.
The recency of a tragedy like the shooting in Parkland makes people ask questions they never thought they’d be asking about their own security and safety. But Romines and MPS have been working to make sure their four million square feet are safe. Some students see those efforts.
“I think they’re taking as many necessary precautions as they can,” Madison Pruett, Southmoore High School junior, said.
In fact, people in the community are taking precautions as well. One Moore resident pledged a donation of $250,000 to the Moore Public Schools Foundation's Safety Initiative if the community will collectively match the donation. The $500,000 would allow all 35 locations in MPS to have access systems, give secondary sites added security officers, pay for bulletproof glass around the district, and enable MPS to take other confidential measures to protect Moore students, teachers, and staff.
In order to meet the goal, the people of Moore would only have to pitch in about $10 for each of the 24,800 students, improving the security of all 35 locations in the district. As of
March 18, 2018, $47,920 has been pledged by the community, leaving $202,080 left to raise.
Raising $250,000 is no small task, but the people of Moore mobilize like no other community.
An organization with 35 locations like MPS has takes a lot of time and effort to secure. Storm season doesn’t make it any easier.
“People get very nervous around storm season,” Romines said. “And that includes me.”
Those nerves haven’t kept Romines and MPS from taking steps to ensure they’re ready for bad weather. In 2013, the community passed a bond issue that allowed MPS to build storm shelters on every site. There are only 11 locations where there are not shelters. Construction of shelters for those 11 sites are either underway or about to begin.
“If something were to happen,” Pruett said, “knowing I have somewhere to go is comforting.”
On top of those shelters, parents are able to check their students out of school, and the schools use social media to get the word out about dangerous weather. Social media, in that sense, is a useful tool. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case for students using social media.
Students from each of the Moore high schools expressed a concern in harmful speech and bullying that takes place in spaces online. The pervasiveness of social media causes students to take mounting pressures with them wherever they go.
Although social media can have a negative impact on students, there are still some students who view social media as a critical tool for the future.
“I can be heard,” Davis said.
Davis’ view of social media as a platform for positive change echoes Romines’ view that social media can be used by students, parents, and schools in order to provide comprehensive help in complex situations. Davis is letting her voice be heard in more ways than one.
Recently, she gave a speech in front of the Oklahoma Education Association to advocate for teachers who she believes are underpaid. Davis is speaking on behalf of teachers and many other Oklahomans who see issues with the education system in the state.
“I know plenty of teachers working two or three jobs,” Davis said. “We need to show them we’re united.”
Davis and Romines share interesting perspectives that seem to get to the same root issues.
“This is not typical for teachers to walk out,” Romines said. “Some think it’s going to harm the students. At the end of the day, they’re doing it to protect their students and future students.”
Davis agreed, but in a unique way.
“Teachers have been walking out for years,” Davis said, referring to teachers leaving for higher paying jobs and other careers. “When the teachers aren’t thriving, the students can’t thrive.”
To Davis, teachers walking out in protest is no different than teachers walking out in order to find higher pay somewhere else. In both her view and Romines’ view, teachers potentially walking out is ultimately for the protection of students in the state. They’re not the only ones that think the education students in the state receive is important.
“People who are in school right now will be the future of America,” Pruett said. “We need to be properly educated.”
Political stances aside, the pressures students are facing today seem to be growing exponentially. Those pressures warrant a response. A few things in these situations appear to be true: stress doesn’t care about convenience, adversity doesn’t consider age, and pressure won’t be ignored.
The response these pressures have provoked from students has been an engagement that is usually associated with students and adults much older than the high schoolers that are speaking up. In decades past, marches and speeches were prevalent on college campuses. As recently as March 24, marches and speeches popped up nationwide led by high schoolers that care about their future.
It is no surprise that students like Davis, Pruett, and Curtis are well spoken and well informed. They care about their future and the future of their peers. And they are not alone in that. The practical change put in place by Romines and MPS shows that there are efforts coming from every direction in our city.
Students and administrators have expressed that there are more students who need to be heard, more shelters that need to be built, more steps that need to be taken for the education system in our state, and more intentionality is needed to positively manage social media. Students and administrators in our city have seen those needs and have been taking meaningful steps to provide solutions.
Romines wanted parents to know that administrators are available for parents and students dealing with these pressures.
“Parents should continue having conversations with their students about what they’re facing and hearing,” he said. “If there’s something they need to share with schools, they do not need to hesitate to pick up the phone and call any of us. We’re here for the students. The students aren’t here for us. It’s okay to pick up the phone and ask for help.”
It seems as though Moore Public Schools is experiencing the dichotomy between passionate change and practical governance. On one hand, people want the status quo to change. They want to make sure the future is safer and that students will receive a good education. It’s meaningful and, whether it’s positive or negative, it’s full of energy. On the other hand, administrators are charged with the difficulty of putting pragmatic policies in place that satisfy the desires of the passionate. Passionate change is fast-paced and full of emotion. Practical governance is slow and meticulous, full of arduous thought. The blending of the two is challenging but necessary.
This movement is being handled by students who are more engaged publically than peers in times past and by administrators that care deeply about the pressures their students are facing. Although pressures presented are daunting, the people of Moore aren’t flinching.