Some kids ‘don’t come back’: Philly school grapples with gun violence
The murders of Hyneef and Khalil remain unsolved.
Lancidt, who oversees the school’s STEP program, a district-wide mental health effort, holds grief counseling sessions every Thursday for students affected by gun violence. The sessions were held on Zoom and Google Meet last year due to the pandemic, but resumed in person, and Lancidt is hoping attendance will increase from there.
Wilkins said that even a bereavement group is needed in high school is “difficult,” but she sees the value for students. “Just free space for them to actually come in and say, ‘This is what’s going on,'” she said. “This is how I feel, this is what is happening in my community and this is the support I need. “
Lancidt is worried about the “toxic stress” experienced by his students, coming from poor neighborhoods, confronted with violence, confronted with racism and trauma. “We could go through the list of all the types of trauma they might have, and then they come in and try, you know, study and get their academics,” she said. “But they also face depression, anxiety, healing from things that they have witnessed or experienced or been a part of in addition to trying to get their education.”
Experts echo Lancidt’s concerns about students with post-traumatic stress disorder who experience violent events outside of school that should happen in class. Howard Stevenson, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said students might suffer from an inability to concentrate and remember or they might be hypervigilant in class.
“Thousands of students across Philadelphia come to class traumatized and are expected to be successful academically,” Stevenson said.
Despite everything the school and district are trying to provide, Wilkins and Lancidt see areas where the wider community could help these teens. Wilkins believes students need more summer programs that focus on job preparation and job skills, as well as a place for teens who have outgrown local recreation centers.
“I wake up in the morning, I’m 17, I’m not working, I’m too old to go to the recreation center, so what am I going to do? Wilkins said. “We need more people who are like our students talking to our students having these conversations. “
Lancidt would like to see more funds dedicated to the work that STEP and the like are doing. And she and Wilkins would like more adults to come to schools and talk about the paths they’ve taken. “I think it’s good for them to be able to see that there are a lot of blacks and browns coming from where they’re from, growing up and doing amazing things,” Lancidt said.
Young experts suggest schools consider alternative resources for students, like recreational sports, where they have a combination of physical activity and teammates, friends, and coaches who genuinely care about their well-being. Coaches can also mentor students who may not have anyone to talk to at home.
MLK head coach Malik Jones attended school with Hyneef’s father in the late 1990s and immediately developed a bond with the teenager. “As soon as I knew he was Bruce’s son, I had to kiss him,” Jones said of Hyneef. “I showed him his father in the phone book. I mean literally every time I saw Hanif he was a very loving kid and he gave me a big hug.
This strategy worked for Tyrell Mims, who was a star player on the MLK football team under Jones. Mims, now in his second year at Villanova University, credits the relationship with his coach for keeping him focused on the pitch and the classroom.
“A lot of kids who come to Martin Luther King come just for four years just to be students. The school brings in kids either from jail or from difficult backgrounds,” Mims said. “I didn’t. never had my dad in my life, but having Malik around was the second best thing, like a good father figure in my life, someone I could always talk to about things that weren’t even football related. “