HealthLinks Upstate Sept/Oct 2022

www.Ups tatePhys i c i ansSC . com | www.Hea l thL i nksUps tate. com | 17 schools in other states,” Felder said. “Safety is now an alarming concern, and I think peer pressure also affects safe-school environments.” SAFETY MEASURES NEW AND OLD When he was in elementary school, Lewis said, school safety mostly amounted to teachers being with students and “janitors locking the building after we left.” But now, with more U.S. school shootings in the last 22 years than in the previous 160 years combined, safety measures include trained school resource officers and ever-improving electronic security to keep schools safe and stress levels low. “School safety is now everybody’s concern – from a first-day first-grader to a soon-to-graduate senior,” said Chuck Saylors, past president of the South Carolina School Boards Association and a Greenville County School District trustee since 2002. “And that safety is now everybody’s responsibility.” District spokesman Tim Waller added that a new $550,000 state-of-the-art portable weapons detection system, known as EVOLV, was implemented before the start of the current year. “A key advantage with EVOLV is the ability for students to flow through this system at a normal pace while providing accurate detection information,” he said. But while electronic security can lessen the stress of school safety, Mount Pleasant SRO Ransom Walters said it is no substitute for personal involvement. “We rely heavily on everyone from faculty and staff to the students and parents to do their part in reporting any safety concerns,” said Walters, an SRO at James B. Edwards Elementary since 2017. “If you see something unsafe, fix the issue. If it’s beyond your scope, report it so that it can be fixed.” SLOWER SPEEDS, BIGGER WINDOWS School safety is not the only fixable issue. Dr. Kelly Holes-Lewis, a psychiatrist with Modern Minds mental wellness clinic in Charleston, said it is imperative that “we encourage our students to share their worries openly with their parents, teachers, a trusted friend or loved one.” “Because if these fears are left unspoken, they can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety and even self-medicating with substances to numb the negative feelings they have,” she said, adding that the window for kids to just be kids keeps getting smaller. “Our children are growing up much faster than ever before,” Dr. Holes-Lewis pointed out. “We live in a very fast-moving world, which includes our education and our lives. But it is not a healthy pursuit.” Going forward, both Dr. Holes-Lewis and Dr. Marcino said that to keep school stresses from building even more and passing the proverbial point of “know” return, everyone in the state’s school systems must offer basic personal support such as: • School officials providing for students’ mental health as early as possible. • Parents instilling in children the importance of unwinding every day. • Students pursuing courses of study that are personally right for them rather than trying to please college entry boards. • Encouraging students of all ages to play after school. • Teachers revamping homework to manageable levels. “In grade 1, 10 minutes is ideal,” Dr. Marcino said. “In grade 4, 40 minutes. In grade 6, 60 minutes. Too much homework leads to burnout, poorer nutrition, lack of sleep and inadequate opportunities to connect with family and friends.” To echo both Saylors and Walters, the most potent weapon against any kind of school stress is everyone looking out for everyone else in any way they can. “With all the unprecedented stresses and challenges facing our students today, our teachers and students would tremendously benefit from a daily in-school practice of meditation and silence,” Dr. Holes-Lewis said. “This practice leads to greater levels of compassion, empathy and understanding, all of which we need more of in our world today.”