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Community violence in Memphis a catalyst for more social, emotional learning investments

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 4:58 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Gun violence has once again affected the children surrounding it.

Monday night, a 10-year-old boy was shot after the adults he was with got into an argument with neighbors.

Memphis police said two people were shot, an adult and the boy, Monday night in Frayser. It happened along Davey Drive. According to a police report, a group of adults started fighting with another group at an apartment complex. The report says the argument stemmed from neighborhood kids not getting along.

Witnesses said an unknown member of one of the groups started shooting during the argument,” according to police. Bullets hit the child and the adult man, who is the boy’s uncle. Both were taken to the hospital in non-critical condition.

In an open letter to Shelby County Schools (SCS) families, Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray said schools are a safe place, but as violence in the community increases, they’re seeing some of it spill into schools.

LeBonheur Children’s Hospital said its latest data show it’s treated 131 children with gunshot wounds so far this year. Last year as a whole, it treated 134.

While the boy’s physical wounds are healing from Monday’s shooting, it’s likely he may have some emotional wounds as well.

Mental health professionals said the community violence has far-reaching impacts, even among those who are not directly impacted.

“Sometimes parents have called us and say this happened in our neighborhood. Check on these students. I saw this on the news, what are you guys doing about that,” said Angela Hodges, Brewster Elementary School’s professional school counselor.

SCS said it’s invested $100 million in creating social and emotional learning programs in schools, in part due to the increased violence in the community.

While the money has gone to hire more mental health professionals, it’s also helped train teachers on spotting mental health needs in children.

“We have made sure all of our staff has an understanding of adverse childhood experiences and how they impact students and even how they respond, how to recognize signs,” said Dr. Angela Hargrave, SCS’s executive director of the Student Equity Enrollment and Discipline program (SEED).

Schools now have a program called RETHINK ED where a social and emotional learning topic is taught in class once a week.

“We do have a program called RETHIK ED. RETHINK ED is a district-wide initiative that every week there is a different lesson and those lessons aren’t just taught by the school counselors, behavior specialists, and social workers. They’re taught by teachers. They teach those 30-minute, once-a-week courses. Actually this month the topic is trauma,” Hodges explained.

School counselors said the investment is in the schools but can have a long-term effect on the community.

“When we are able to help students manage their emotions, process information in a better way, and build better relationships, now you’re talking about stronger communities,” Hargrave said.

There have been no arrests made in the shooting of the 10-year-old boy and his uncle.

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