Shirley Ballantine wandered around the hall with a microphone in her hand. A screen with baby pictures floating behind it.
Some of them were children and some were teenagers. Some smiled and some frowned. Some were in black and white, others in colour.
But all of them lost their young lives.
“I want you to understand that these are not faces from Wisconsin,” Plantin said. “They’re not from Massachusetts. They’re not even from Orlando. They’re not from Broward County.”
“These are children’s faces here in Miami-Dade.”
Hundreds of school health workers attended a professional development conference hosted by the Children’s Trust at Ronald W. Reagan Doral High School Wednesday morning. The three-day conference, which will be held remotely on Thursday and Friday, will focus on mental health, gun violence prevention and school health.
Introducing nurses and mental health professionals into schools
This is the first time since 2019 that the annual conference of school health professionals has come back in person, James Hage, CEO of The Children’s Fund, said. Sessions are a refresher for professionals and an opportunity to network, strengthen relationships, and explore resources.
Al-Hajj said the Children’s Fund funds 146 clinics in 141 high-need schools in Miami-Dade. The clinics, which are run through partnerships with hospitals such as Nicklaus Children’s, are open during school hours to all school-age children. Students can go for medical treatment in addition to their social, emotional and mental needs.
“If they get sick or there is a need, they come to the clinic to get all the services they need,” he said. “Their parents do not have to come to pick them up. They can go back to class and keep up with teaching time.”
Eduardo Barrios, a nurse who serves three Miami-Dade elementary schools at Nicklaus, a children’s hospital near South Miami, said the conference provides expert guidance and provides feedback for school health staff. The information provided is relevant to Barrios’ work providing care for disadvantaged children. School nurses can notice problems even before a child’s family.
“So anything from dental care to needing a splint or getting glasses,” Barrios said. “It has a huge impact on [student] Academic achievements. ”
This training and collaboration allow school health professionals to see the human being holistically, said Lisette Collazo-Maza, a social worker who provides mental health services to 13 schools. Children of immigrant families can rely on these services because many of them do not have insurance.
“They don’t have to go anywhere,” she said. “We are there. They can be in school, and at the same time, they take care of physical and mental matters as well.”
Preventing gun violence in Miami-Dade
Plantin, a senior executive advisor to U-Turn Youth Consulting Firm, said Miami is losing a semester of students a year, about 30 students, to gun violence. But school nurses, mental health professionals, and teachers can help change that.
She said the shooters are getting younger. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gun violence.
“We’re screaming and screaming about the Ovaldi shooting,” she said. But we lose them every day. . . Uvalde is important, but the shootings that happen in the community every day, are also important.”
She said youth violence is a public health problem. Children take to the streets, earning more money than their parents legally do. And money often causes gun violence.
Plantin has had kids come to her and share their outlook on life. Many tell her they don’t have the luxury of living; They are just trying to survive.
“You are dealing with a generation of young people who do not like life and are not afraid of death,” she said.
She urged professionals to challenge their biases. Children from poor areas are not the only ones who commit crimes. Wealthy kids do too, but they have the legal resources to get rid of problems that many black and brown kids don’t have. Some people also justify gun violence by saying that people who are shot do bad things. But what were the bad things 6-year-olds were doing on screen?
Protecting children at school
Major Joseph Bevilacqua of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department said that every Miami-Dade school has a fully trained police officer.
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools are safer today than they were before,” Bevilacqua said.
He said school police had taken action to prevent mass casualty incidents since before Parkland and Ovaldi. Some of the procedures include:
- Single entry points
- random metal detection
- Classroom doors locked
- Combing random firearms and drugs
- Threat assessment teams
- Active Shooter Lockdown Drills
- Police training for active shooter reaction
- Collaboration with school mental health professionals
Bevilacqua said that all GPS-tracked school and bus cameras are monitored from command posts. The police are also scanning social media and investigating all threats. Threats are tracked before school starts the next morning.
Officers are trained to report an active shooting situation – even if they are alone. Bevilacqua pointed to the school resource officer at the back of the room.
“He will identify the threat,” he said, “even before the man puts down the gun.”
Plantin said more needs to be done to tackle armed violence. Miami-Dade is ahead of other counties but schools need to make mental health a priority. School health professionals need to connect with children, empathize without condoning, communicate with them and serve and expect nothing in return.
“When we don’t, the guns do,” she said. “Because the streets will happily accept them.”
This story was originally published August 3, 2022 5:14 pm.