Camden principal urges students to listen to one another

School district responds to community concerns about student safety
By Susan Mustapich | Mar 14, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Principal Shawn Carlson, at Camden Hills Regional High School, is asking students to make connections to other students in the school who they do not know, in order to strengthen the school community.

ROCKPORT — Camden Hills Regional High School Principal Shawn Carlson gave a speech on school safety March 2, asking students to make connections with peers they do not know, to seek to understand others people's views, and to assume the best of one another.

He began his speech by acknowledging the anxiety, fears, anger, and frustration students may feel following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well the feeling others may have that they are safe here.

He asked students to reach out to 17 students they don't know. He ended the speech by supporting students “who are feeling empowered and willing to take political steps to make change."

“Today I want to share some thoughts around the recent violence in Florida and the topic of safety," he said. "I have witnessed a number of reactions to the events in Florida from our school community. For some, this has been a sad reminder of the danger in the world. For some, it has awoken fears and anxiety. Others of us are angry and frustrated at what seems like a reoccurring cycle of tragedy and self-reflection. There are also others of us who while recognizing the awfulness of an event such as the Parkland shooting feel relatively safe and isolated from such acts of evil. In fact, many of us have or will cycle through many of these feelings. That is expected and natural. My first request of you is to accept each others' reactions and to offer understanding and not judgment.

"The staff and I have several norms that we try to practice in our work with you and each other. I would like to share two of those with you today. The first is a commitment to seek understanding when speaking with others before we seek to be understood. I want you to consider practicing this norm, especially when dealing with one another's beliefs and feelings. Some of us have very passionate and strong beliefs about issues tied to this tragedy. Try to understand your peers and teachers before you try to convince them of your position or thinking. One of our school values is empathy and the effort to understand one another is a step towards achieving empathy.

"The second norm that the staff and I expect of one another is to assume the best of one another. Our lives are moving so quickly that we rarely have time to really speak with one another except in quick bits, texts, or passing comments. It is easy to misunderstand another’s words in these quick and rushed interactions. We can easily take offense, feel wounded or angered by another’s throw-away remarks. I urge you not to let those feelings linger when another’s intent is hard to judge. Assume the best of one another. My experience is that the slight or hurt were often unintentional. Follow up if need be with that person, but assume the best of your classmates and teachers.

“As a new member of this community, I can say with all honesty that our school community is welcoming, warm, and inviting. There are so many aspects of this school’s community that are positive. I want you to remember that and take some pride in that observation. I see everyday, acts of kindness and compassion, of caring and humor, of leadership and service. I am proud to be a member of this school community. It isn’t perfect, no school or social group is, but we have a tremendous amount to be thankful for. Remember that, if you are feeling some anxiety or concern as a result of incidents like Parkland. You have something special here and a building of caring peers and adults. We are a community that looks out for one another.

"We can also build on this foundation. I am asking you to reach out to 17 students you do not know in the coming weeks. Say hello, strike up a conversation, or sit with them at lunch. We can make a difference by acting locally here in our own school. Begin one new connection for each of the students and teachers who lost their lives in Florida. Lets strengthen our sense of community.

“Finally, I recognize that there are many of you who are also thinking globally, who are feeling empowered and willing to take political steps to make change. My beliefs about the purpose of school stem from the philosophy of one of the great educators of the 20th century, John Dewey. John Dewey believed that the purpose of education was to develop democratic principles in young people. He defined democracy with a small 'd' as more than a form of government but also primarily a mode of connected living, of building a community. Students wishing to influence their government through activism and involvement are exactly what I believe we are here to nurture. Students across the country are leading around some of these issues and some of you may want to participate in these national debates. Some of you are interested in participating in a protest on March 14th. We will talk to those student leaders wishing to organize this event to be sure we create a safe space for your voice.”

Students planned to participate in the National Student Walkout March 14, at 10 a.m., with a 17-minute series of remarks and remembrances for the students and teachers who lost their lives in Florida Feb. 14. As this story goes to press, it is still unclear if weather will permit this event.

Carlson emailed parents that police officers would be present.

The school boards will hold a School Safety Forum for parents of students in grades K-12 to share their concerns and questions, and learn more about safety in area schools from a panel of school board officials, principals, and police and fire chiefs.

The forum will be held March 27, at 6:30 p.m. in the Strom Auditorium at Camden Hills Regional High School.

School safety issues and the forum were expected to be discussed at the CSD school board meeting March 14, at 7 p.m., in the CHRHS Chorus room.

At the high school, an emergency system is already in place, according to Carlson, and will be practiced regularly, including a drill March 16.

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