December 29, 2017 --- On Friday December 15th, I was sitting at my desk trying to talk myself out of going to the XSCAPE concert that I had purchased a ticket to months ago. It had been a long day. As I finished up a few things in preparation to pack up, I received a phone call from a colleague stating that a student had been shot in the face while on 79th and Ashland, and it was rumored to be one of mine. She told me to stand by for her call as she was waiting for confirmation.
My heart sank.
This would make the 9th student, the third fatally (if this were to be the outcome), of mine that was shot. Two different schools - high school and now elementary; thousands of people (students, families, and staff) impacted. When I hung up the phone, the only thing I could do was scream. I did just that - and it felt good. Soon thereafter, I got the follow up call from my colleague. She confirmed that it was my baby, gave me the name, and told me what hospital he was rushed to. It was one of my 8th graders; the epitome of a stellar student - great grades and of sound character. After composing myself, I drafted an email to my senior leadership teams (CEP and CICS) to inform them of the situation. I immediately got a call from the CEO of CICS who offered to support me and our school community in any way possible. That's when it really hit me - tears began to fall. I then got a call from the CSO from CEP who offered to go to the hospital with me.
I felt supported, but didn't know how I felt beyond that.
I wrapped up the call and began to pack up my things to head to the hospital. When I arrived to the hospital, I saw his little sister, who is also a student at my school and was a witness to this horrific incident, was rubbing her mother's back as she cried. It was in that moment that I realized how resilient kids are.
Where will this show up on her report card?
That's another topic for another article...to be continued. The doctor was delivering an update on her son's condition. He had been shot in the neck; his jaw bone was broken and there was a ton of swelling. While they were very optimistic about the outcome based on his condition, they had to inform mom of all the possibilities as a result of the bullet being shattered inside his mouth. I hugged mom and told her I was praying for and with her on a speedy recovery. I asked his sister and mom what they wanted to eat, and baby sister decided on KFC. I drove to get them some dinner as I did all that I could to hold it together. I got back to the hospital with the food and found both mom and sister to be doing well under the circumstances. I dropped the food off, hugged mom, and told her to reach out to me if there was anything she or her baby needed. We exchanged cell numbers and I left. I sat in my truck for about ten minutes trying to decide if I was going to go to the concert. My team was enjoying themselves at the staff holiday party, so I decided that it would probably be best for me to go to the concert rather than sit at home.
I made it to the concert in time to see the main act. From my seat, I composed the following email to my staff:
Good evening Team Wrightwood,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that Student A (Homeroom Teacher), college graduating class of 2026, was shot this afternoon on his way home from school. He, along with his sister Student B (Homeroom Teacher), was on the bus and was caught in a cross fire at 79th and Ashland. Thanking and praising God that although it could have been, it WAS NOT a fatal shooting. [He] is in critical condition, but the doctors are optimistic. I went by the hospital to sit with mom and baby sister for some time; they’re both doing as well as can be under the circumstances - [baby sister] is being incredibly strong for her mommy. Although my heart is heavy, I am composing this email from the concert - not because I felt like coming, but because I felt the need to model for you all how resilient we must be for ourselves, but most importantly for our leaders on Monday. There will be an entire crisis management team present on to help leaders and staff cope as needed. Please send your positive thoughts and prayers to [him], the family, the 8th grade team, and [baby sister's teacher] as they navigate this difficult time and space. Mom says she’ll send [sister] to school if she’s up to it. If she does show up, let’s send positive thoughts her way, but please do not ask her questions about the incident. We want to try to make things as normal as possible for her. Thank you all in advance for showing up physically and emotionally for our community on Monday. I’ll be in touch with updates as they become available. Please reach out to me directly if you’d like to chat.
We WILL win - against ALL odds,
PS - I hope y’all turned all the way up at the party. You all deserved it and so much more!
After sending the email, I got so many replies from members of my team. They expressed their gratitude for my leadership during this difficult time and offered to support in whatever way needed. On Sunday, December 17th, the night before we were to return back to school after the incident, I sent the following email to my team:
Good evening team,
Thanks to all who’ve reached out to me personally to offer support in whatever way needed. You all are such an amazing team! I am writing to provide an update on [him]. The first round of surgery was successful. He is alert and responsive via writing. He’ll start therapy in the next few days and go into surgery again next week to repair the broken jaw bone and remove the bullet (after swelling has gone down). Many have asked about visitors, so I want to share that visitation isn’t open while he’s in the ICU. [Homeroom Teacher] and I are on the list, so we will continue to show love for the team and report back any updates. Thanks for caring!
Mom is bringing [sister] to school and dropping her off. More to come on our plan for her in the morning.The 8th grade team is going to work on creating a video for [him] to send our well wishes - through silent expression. Please see this link: https://youtu.be/VjFoBLcl1JQ for an idea of what we’re going for. If you’d like to participate, please see [the Associate Director] or a member of the 8th grade team.We will have a staff huddle at 7:45 (using the same schedule and coverage as we do on Fridays). Please be sure to try to spread the word in the morning in case some didn’t get the email. During huddle, we will talk about the plan for staff and leaders to get support as needed. Questions will also be answered at that time. Don’t forget tomorrow is Super Hero t-shirt day (how fitting). I am sitting here in tears as I watch CNN Heroes (check out the last part or go to cnnheroes.com if you can to get a burst of inspiration). We are all heroes; we continue to show up for our leaders in spite of adversity. Let’s show up tomorrow in a cool and major way by channeling whatever hero you will be sporting.
A way to support...
It is highly unlikely that mom will be able to pull Christmas off given the circumstance, so I am launching a donation campaign. If you’d like to support, you can do one (or more) of three things: 1) donate a new Christmas gift for [him]; 2) donate a new Christmas gift for [baby sister]; or 3) donate money to go towards helping mom secure a safer method of transportation for her babies. You can bring cash or use the cash app to donate if you’d like. All gifts and donations will need to be made by Thursday. I will prepare everything (wrap it and tag it) and drop it off at the hospital on Christmas Day.
Thanks for all you have done and will continue to do for our leaders and community. It is unfortunate situations like this that reminds us of how important our work really is. We must stay motivated to win! Not just by achieving our academic goals by the end of the year, but also by giving our leaders access to a better life and brighter future through the work we do each day.
Still daring to dream,
On Monday, December 18th, I facilitated the staff huddle. It was definitely a somber feel in the room. The plan for support was shared. Questions were asked. Questions answered. We ended our huddle in the same way we usually do - by declaring ALL WE DO IS WIN, but not before a team member ordered us all to bring it in for a staff hug. I knew it was going to be a tough day, but I felt good knowing that my team showed up and was able to empathize. There was breakfast in the lounge for staff to help them get through the day. We had extra tissue boxes delivered to the 8th grade rooms. And we made sure the Social Worker, Counselor, and Psychologist were available for all who needed support. Later that day, I had our Chief of People send the following email to my team with the EAP flyer attached:
Good Morning Wrightwood Community,
As educators here, I know that you always put kids first. On days like today - when your school community is rallying around [him], [baby sister] and their family, friends and classmates - the love, care and support you provide are deeply evident. Please continue to lift up each member of the Wrightwood family, but don't forget to take some time for self care and reflection. For many of us, food is comfort. To that end, we've provided a breakfast and snacks to help keep your energy and spirits up throughout the day. I know you will lean on each other and look out for one another, but I'm also attaching information regarding out Employee Assistance Program. This is a free and confidential benefit that provides up to 3 free counseling sessions among other resources for people who wish for this support.
Thank you for all that you do. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any other questions or needs.
I spent my entire morning with the 8th graders as they worked to process what happened and made connections to their personal lives. Ultimately, they decided that it would be best to have a gender based Town Hall to allow them to be emotionally free. We gave them an hour and allowed them to structure the time as they saw fit. I played a short video on the difference between empathy and sympathy and why it's best to be empathetic. After discussing that, we made connections with one another by doing the "Stand If" activity. It showed us that we were not alone in much of what we were thinking, feeling, and experiencing. From there, one 8th grade leader decided it would be good for us to get all the anger and negativity out by screaming as loud as we could. It was so liberating! Then she closed us out with a positivity circle. We repeated positive affirmations after her. Then we hugged one another and told each other "I got you." Finally, she rendered a call to action by telling the girls that they must get over any tension or beef they have with others in the room. They went up to one another and hugged. It was one of the most powerful moments I've ever experienced as a leader.
That said, I had to quickly snap back into reality because at the end of the year, none of this will show up in the SQRP metrics.
It's the sad reality of the work that has me reconsidering my place in it.