Student panel discusses school security

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas at a school safety forum at Central New Mexico Community College on Thursday.

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Tragically, Adam Jones, a student at Aztec High School, is all too familiar with the importance of talking about school security and the fear students have when going to class every day.

At a school safety forum Thursday, Jones remembered the day a gunman opened fire at Aztec High, killing two students.

He said there was one decision he made that day late last year that he thinks saved his life; he decided to head straight to class just moments before the shooting.

“It was the difference between a left and a right,” he said.

He was running late and so he forwent a bathroom break – resulting in him being out of the halls and, instead, in a classroom.

Jones was one of seven other students who talked during the forum at Central New Mexico Community College, addressing topics that included communication in schools and mental health services.

The forum – hosted by CNM and the Office of the Attorney General – aimed to address what Attorney General Hector Balderas called “patchworks of vulnerability” throughout schools in the state.

“Collectively, I believe, we can do more,” Balderas told the crowd.

And the student speakers agreed.

Emilie Wojtowicz, CNM student, pushed for proactive measures, saying efforts are too often focused on response.

“Why don’t we focus on prevention more?” she asked.

Wojtowicz wanted to see early intervention systems in place to help students before they become violent.

Other students called for certified and accessible mental health professionals or peer support groups.

But Amaia Biewen, a student at BlendED Studios, emphasized that mental health isn’t inherently the problem, arguing entitlement and toxic ideologies are what should be addressed on an educational and societal level.

The importance of community and communication was stressed by the majority of student speakers.

Christopher Ault, a CNM student and security officer, said people need to be more willing to talk with one another, both to foster friendship and to create a vigilant network around campus.

The consensus of the panel was that the rhetoric about school safety is either nonexistent or a joke among students.

“We make jokes about it because we’re afraid,” said Biewen. “That’s how normalized it is.”

Students’ voices and communication were also on the minds of school leaders, who spoke on a separate panel during the forum.

Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools Veronica Garcia and Albuquerque Public Schools Chief of Operations Officer Scott Elder said they have been making it a priority to talk with students, getting their input and keeping them in the loop on processes.

Balderas said he plans on talking with school boards and legislatures about what was discussed at Thursday’s forum.

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