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Leading in the Aftermath of Gun Violence

Help for school leaders in how to respond to traumatic events, such as shootings, at their schools — from an experienced leader who has gone through it.
Illustration of hands reaching toward one another

What does it mean to be a school leader when the unimaginable happens? Frank DeAngelis, retired principal of Columbine High School, knows the answer firsthand. 

DeAngelis has dedicated much of the past 23 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School to helping other school leaders. Following a school shooting, DeAngelis picks up the phone and calls the principal.

“When I make these phone calls, one of the first things they'll state to me, ‘I can't believe it happened here.’ And if you would've told me that Columbine could have happened at Columbine 23 years ago, I would have said no,” DeAngelis says. “I mean, this school, high test scores, kids going on to college, we had a lot of parental involvement. It was great. And no one expects it to happen in their community.”

Today he is part of the growing number of principals, who've endured school shootings, and work together as part of the Principals Recovery Network. In this episode, he reflects on the Columbine shooting, what he has learned, and about a new guide to help other school leaders work through responding to traumatic events like shootings. 


Jill Anderson: I'm Jill Anderson. This is the Harvard EdCast.

Frank DeAngelis picks up the phone every time there is a school shooting to call that principal. He was the principal of Columbine High School 23 years ago when 12 students and a teacher were killed. The Columbine shooting went on to become notorious with every school shooting that has happened since. He's since dedicated time to assisting other principals who've experienced similar tragedies. It's a list that is constantly growing. I wanted to talk to Frank about what it means to lead through this type of traumatic event, and how the Principal Recovery Network now has a guide to advise school leaders in the aftermath.

First, I asked Frank whether he'd ever imagine in the months following the Columbine shooting there would be a day when he'd have an entire network of principals who'd experienced the same type of tragedy.

Frank DeAngelis

It is somewhat horrifying, because I can remember on the day that Columbine happened, and I couldn't go back to my house, because the FBI was concerned about the safety and welfare of my family. So, I'm at brother's house. And all I kept thinking about is, I hope these poor people, you know, my kids and Mr. Sanders, didn't die in vain. And they continue to happen. And that's the thing that's so frustrating. I look at the lessons learned, and, you know, I made comment, it was probably within a couple of days, I said, "I just joined a club in which no one wants to be a member." And unfortunately, that membership continues to grow. But, you know, one of the things that I try to tell people when I do go out and talk to them, we continue to hear about these events that happen, but how many have been stopped because we have things in place now that we didn't necessarily have in place back then?

But, you know, another life is one too many, you know? And the Uvalde one has really hit me hard. Whenever I get a text that, "You're in my thoughts and prayers," within five minutes the media calls and I know there's another school shooting. And it's been tough. And as a matter of fact, uh, this past weekend I spent time with Michele Gay with Safe and Sound Schools. And, um, her daughter Joey was killed at Sandy Hook. And I can remember sitting in my office, uh, because I was still principal and... when all that news came across. And it's tough. And, you know, we look at it... the recovery piece, and I think that's why the Principal Recovery Network came into existence, because, um, when we met for the first time in 2019, we just sat there and I think so many times we felt, as individuals, we were the only ones going through it. And all of the sudden we start, you know, opening our hearts and sharing. And there's this instant bond took place. And it was interesting from the standpoint that, whether it be a rural community, large suburb, you know, inner city that, you know, what we experienced was real and we were going through the same things, so it was a great support system.

Jill Anderson: There have been 30 school shootings this year. And three of them just happened in the past few weeks since school came back in session.

Frank DeAngelis: It's unreal. And there was an event that happened in North Carolina on September 1st last year. I had just talked to the principal on the one-year remembrance. And then on this year an event happened also. And he called me and said, "Can you reach out to the principal there?" And it continues to happen. And I don't know what's going on. I'm not sure the role that, uh, the pandemic played on that, with kids being, you know, isolated and things of that nature. But, you know, it has to stop. We need to make sure that we provide safe and protective schools, but I think everybody's looking for that one thing that's gonna stop it. And there's not. I use the analogy of it being a jigsaw puzzle. First place that people will go will be, you know, stronger gun laws and things of that, which is a piece to the puzzle. But we also need to look at school districts that are talking about eliminating counselors or social workers. I mean, that mental component, that social-emotional learning is key. Uh, the role that social media's playing. I really believe that that has an impact on a lot of the things that are happening. And then also, just providing that support for kids. Because I know even towards the end of my career, we saw more and more kids that, um, not strong family life at home. And, uh, you know, and I'm a grandparent. But if I had to raise my adolescent grandchild, it's tough. And I think a lot of times, I can't tell you the number of grandparents I had in my office, and even great-grandparents who were just looking for advice to raise their teenagers. And so, all of these things come in. We have to figure out how are we gonna do this?

You know, I think one of the things that's important that we kind of underestimate is so many times, before these events happen, there's broadcasting going on. And we need to make sure that we tell our kids, tell other members of our community, if they see something, you know, say something. And then we need to reach out as adults and make sure that we can protect our kids and our schools.

Jill Anderson: You have committed so much of your career to helping others in the aftermath of these shootings. And I look at you and I think you could have just walked away. You could have quit. You could have retired. I mean, you stayed on for a significant number of years after the Columbine shooting. And I think, why? Everyone would have understood if you just said, "You know what? I'm, I'm gonna go in a different direction now."

Frank DeAngelis: Well, one of the things that's important to me, and its helped me with the healing process, is my faith. And I can remember being at my brother's house that night. And I'm a cradle Catholic. And for the first time in my life, I was questioning my faith in God. Everything I witnessed. I encountered a gunman, I walked over bodies, pools of blood, kids that were shot. And I was saying, "God, how could you allow this to happen?" It was a couple of days later the priest from my parish, Father Ken called me down. And he said, "Frank, can you come down here?" I said, "Father, I'm in a bad place." He said, "Please, come down." So, I reluctantly walk into the church and ... there's about 1200 people. Students, parents, community members. And he called me on the alter. And he whispered something in my ear. He said, "Frank, you should have died that day, but God's got a plan." And he quoted Proverbs 16:9, and he said, "'In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.' So, for whatever reason, God chose you. And, you know, it's evil, but he's gonna be there every step of the way. And when you fall, he's gonna pick you up. And he... you've gotta go back and rebuild that community. And in addition to that help others."

And every time I think about that, I'm thinking that I'm not sure why I was chosen, but if I could help and he's giving the strength, along with being in counseling and things of that nature. And I can remember the week of Columbine happened, I received a phone call from Bill Bond, who was a principal at Heath High School in Paducah. And he called me and he said, "Frank, you don't even know what you need, but here's my number." And he became an instant friend and I called him, you know, constantly seeking help. And that's why, you know, I said, "I hope I never have to be that person to make the phone call." But unfortunately, I have over the past 20 years, have made that call numerous times. And I'm gonna continue to do it.

Jill Anderson: Do you have any idea how many of those phone calls you've made?

Frank DeAngelis: I know there are 23 members, or 21 members... in this Principal Recovery Network. And I think I've talked to each and every one of them when it happened. And in addition to that, what I'm finding out is there's situations that happen, for example, in the state of Colorado, it was a couple of years ago, we had a mass shooting up at a supermarket in Boulder. And they reached out to me in that recovery piece. And they said, "You know, Frank, you endured." And I see that happening a lot of times. During the pandemic, schools called upon me. And, you know, and I use the example that, you know, Columbine, Parkland, uh, Sandy Hook, these other places, the enemy were the shooters. But for us, something that all of us experienced over the past three years is the pandemic. And the recovery piece, the similarities, I was able to share what helped us with the recovery. And I know when we did the press conference and I talk about, you know, how this recovery guide could help communities when they go through things. It... You know, the one thing that I tell people, it's not a competition. It shouldn't be waged who suffers more based upon the death toll, or the particulars of a particular situation. I said trauma's trauma. And we need to make sure that we reach out to help people. And that's what my role's been.

Jill Anderson: Do you find that when you do reach out to principals, is the response the same? Is it really different?

Frank DeAngelis: When I make the phone call, and it's not because I'm Frank DeAngelis. I think it's because Columbine. And I was a principal. And when I say to them, "I know what you're feeling," they're saying, "Yeah, you do. You were there." I think one of the things that was really a triggering point for people is when people came up to you and said, "I know what you're feeling." And I know a lot of times people don't know what to say under those circumstances and I know just at Columbine, people would say, "You know how I feel? Were you locked in a classroom, you know, with 20 kids, when a gunman was walking by? Were you in there?" And so, it creates some issues. But when we state, "We really know what you're feeling," or, "We know what it was like having to re-enter a school," and things of that nature. And I remember talking to people, you know, "What do we do at the first graduation? What do we do at the first remembrance?" And I said, "This is what we did." You know? And at least things that worked, that did not work, that we do over and over again. But I think there's that credibility piece, just because we've been there.

Jill Anderson: You know, one of the things I think about with school leaders is, when these shootings happen, we hear a lot about the students. Of course we hear a lot about the students. It makes perfect sense. But we don't hear as much about what happens to school leaders. How does this affect them and change them?

Frank DeAngelis: The first thing that I ask is, as leaders of a school, it's kind of like being a CEO of a company, that we have to take care of everyone. But one of the best phone calls I received within 24 hours of the shootings at Columbine is my mom worked for a doctor. He was a chiropractor. And he called and he was a Vietnam veteran. And he said, "Frank, I never got the help I needed. And you're being pulled in so many different directions, you know, with your staff, with your kids, with your community, your family. And if you don't take care of yourself, you're not gonna be able to help others." And that is something that resonates in my mind. And one of the things that I talk to, I said, "What are you doing to take care of yourself?" Because you're never prepared for this. And that was one of the things that helped me.

I got into counseling right away. And people are saying, "Well, I don't have time." Well, you need to find time. And I've also heard, "Well, I talked to one person." I said, "You need to find the person that you can make that connection." And I always hear, "Well, you know, I have my wife. I have my significant other. I have my..." I said, "That's fine. But if you broke your arm, would you allow your husband or wife, unless if they're doctors, of course, to fix it?" I said, "You need to talk to someone professionally that deals with trauma." And more importantly, as a leader, people are watching you. And you don't even realize that, you know? And what I realized, that if I went into my staff and said, "Boy, what you went though, you're messed up. You better talk to someone." And people are saying, "No one's gonna tell me what to feel or how do it it," because our lives are out of control. It's how you deliver the message.

And I can remember meeting with my staff each and every day. And I said, "Boy, I don't know about you. But, you know, I'm not sleeping at night. You know, I'm having these recurring nightmares, anxiety... ." All of the sudden I see people nodding, because I think so many times they feel they're the only ones that are experiencing that. I love this quote, "Character and integrity are who you are when no one's watching." And I think that's important. And another story, I think that exemplifies what I just stated, is I can remember our students. We could not go back to Columbine because the building was in shambles. So, we had, uh, about a month left. I was able to talk to our school board members and our superintendent about, "Could we wait two weeks to return to school?" Because we had 13 memorial services we had to attend. And the last thing I wanted was for our kids and staff to go to memorial service and then try to go learn math and science.

And so, they agreed. But we also needed to provide support for our kids and our staff. So, I can remember, it was on the Thursday before I went down to the church later that evening. Counselor comes in and they said, "Frank, your kids need to see you." I said, "I have nothing to give." I said, "I have not slept. I'm not in a very good place." They said, "Please, come with us." And all of the sudden I walk into the gym where these kids were, this auditorium, and they start chanting, you know, "We love you Mr. D. We love you Mr. D. We're Columbine." Well, emotionally, I lose it. I mean, literally start crying, hyperventilating. I, I turned my back away because I had a lot of survivor's guilt. I let those kids down.

And all of the sudden, the counselor turns me around. He said, "Frank, what do you see?" I said, "I am so sorry I upset these kids." They said, "No, you don't understand. For the past 48 hours, these kids didn't know what to feel. They were very stoic. They had no emotion. And you gave them permission that it was okay to cry, it was okay to feel." And kids hugging. And they said, "Frank, we've heard you present. We've heard you give speeches before the tragedy, after. And what you did today, you didn't utter... not one word was uttered out of your mouth, but your message was stronger than anything you could have said verbally." And that's when I learned that people were going to be watching. And if I told staff, you know, "You need to take care of yourself, you need to go home," but I'm working 17, 18 hour days, they're saying, "Well, why are you not doing it?" And so, I think that's a key point in leadership, you know? You can't do as I say, not as I do. Because you are watching. And, and as leaders, not only are the parents, students, staff watching.

And then the other point that I make is, before I said, "Are you talking to anyone?" You also need to get your family involved. Because what happens is, when there's a report that gunfire was at a school, your school that... Your family's wondering if they'll ever see you again. And I can remember my wife telling me, "You're not the same man I married." And I wasn't. And unfortunately, it cost me a divorce. And if I had to do it all over again, I would have been more persistent in her joining me in my counseling session. Because she said, "I don't understand why you're quiet. And when you get around family members you go off by yourself." She didn't understand what I was going through. And so, to just sit down, you know, and she said, "Well, you're the one that needs help." But we needed help as a family. My kids. And that's one of the things, I said, "Don't underestimate not only getting yourself help, but also your loved ones to kind of understand what you're going through." Because it's gonna be a long journey and you need support of your loved ones.

Jill Anderson: I was looking at the guide that you have created with the Principal's Network. And I was really amazed at how much you fit into eight pages. It's a lot of information. From how to deal with the media, how to handle the response, which really hugely varies per student and staff, and that people are gonna need different things at different times, to how to hold memorial service... I mean, there is so much packed into this eight pages. It's incredible.

Frank DeAngelis: Right. And that was one of the most difficult things. You know, when we met, and we would meet for a couple of days and just talk about it. And it was Elizabeth Brown who really helped developed this guide. And she said, "We need to put this in writing." Because so many times we talk about it. And one of the things we felt that was important is taking us back to when we experienced the event, is the last thing people need is a 50 page guide to thumb through. If they come to a particular section, whether it be on graduation, first year remembrance, and they look at it and they need more information, then there's contact they can say, "You know, Frank, we saw this about graduation, what you wrote. Give us a little more detail." And it's... So, it just touches upon certain things. And as time goes on, one of the things that we try to do is get as much of a diversified input as we could, because, you know, elementary schools are different. And so, we have input from people that are in elementary school.

Rural communities are different than a large suburban high school like Columbine. And we tried to identify. And usually, I make the initial phone call. And once I do that, stating I'm gonna have such and such, "Uh, we're gonna have an assistant principal call you, because you were an assistant principal." Or, "We're gonna have a principal who was also injured call you." Because there's more things that you could relate to and things of that nature. So, we're hoping that guide would be, uh, you know, would be able to help. And one of the things we're hoping with this guide is, so many times we're reactive. And this is more proactive. And I know when we released this, we were hoping that superintendents would look at this guide that doesn't have to be anticipating a school shooting, but what we've gone through with the pandemic. It could be anything, you know?
Just recently, my sister's a principal secretary at a nearby school. And unfortunately, one of her students was killed on a scooter accident. And her school is dealing with these issues. And teachers are struggling. And I referred her to this Principal Recovery Guide, because it does talk about it, and how do you deal with things in that nature.

Jill Anderson: It's a really amazing guide. And anyone can have access to it, right?

Frank DeAngelis: Correct. And as time goes on, we will add to it. You know, thinking back to Columbine, which was 23 years ago, social media was not prevalent. I mean, we had MySpace. I can't imagine if we had social media in the manner that we have it today. I mean, we're still talking about Columbine. And we basically had the 24/7 news cycle. But as time goes on, things are gonna change, you know? And so, we'll keep adding to that and getting input and getting different people to commit. A prime example is, recently when the Uvalde shooting happened, I received a phone call from a principal in which a school shooting had happened last year. And they said, "Frank, you have a letter that we could sent out to our community on how to deal with, you know, the aftermath of another event, being re-traumatized." And so, we did. We had a letter saying, "This is what we sent to our community, which provides resources for, you know, counseling, for, um, people to talk to as support," and so, we have that out there that you don't have to really re-invent the whole thing. And I think that's the important thing about the guide.

Jill Anderson: You know, earlier you mentioned that there's no real way to prepare for something like a shooting. And we see a lot of schools practicing active shooter drills. And a lot of ideas about responding and arming teachers, and, and things that are out there.

Frank DeAngelis: I think the thing about it is, I think back to Columbine. The only drills we did were fire drills. I mean, that was it. But now we have to prepare. And I think not only as schools, but even within our own society. You know, yesterday or this past weekend, just going through the airport. And I heard som- ov- overheard someone, "Boy, have times changed. Prior to 9/11, we didn't have to do any of these things." I think all of us. In the state of Colorado. We've seen school shootings in a movie theater, in churches, you see it in shopping malls. And I think we all walk in and we're more vigilant of what is happening. And so, I think what happens, and people say, "Are we traumatizing our kids?" And I said, "It's how you deliver the message." It's not to scare, it's to prepare.

A prime example is, I was getting ready a few years ago, my granddaughter was starting kindergarten. And we're out on the playground and I'm doing recess duty. And all of the sudden, they said we gotta get back in the building. It was a drill. And all these kids are coming up and they're saying, "Papa. Papa. What's going on?" And I said, "Well, we're just practicing, for example, if a dog got loose and we had to get you back in the building, we wanna make sure." You're not gonna say, "Well, if there was an active shooter," type of thing. It's how you do it. And I use the analogy is, as a parent, grandparent, we tell our kids, "Don't cross the street." Or, "You're gonna hold Papa's hand, or Mommy's hand." Or, you know, "If a strange comes to..." it's the same type of thing. And that's what we're doing in schools, is just to work on these drills. It, you know, if what happens.

Jill Anderson: We live in a time where, as a principal, you can't really assume or just say, "This isn't gonna happen in my school."

Frank DeAngelis: Right.

Jill Anderson: So, is there something you can do, as a school leader?

Frank DeAngelis: I think a lot of times it's how you deliver the message. Because if I got up in front of my staff and said, "Oh, the district is mandating this, so we gotta do it and get it out of the way." Well, they're gonna say, "He or she's not buying into this. You know? They're just doing it because they have to." But one of the things that we did with the drills, because when it... we originally did drills, we had teachers that were continuing to teach. And all of the sudden what we did is, I worked in conjunction with school resources officers and our community safety group, our executive. We would actually walk around to the rooms, and you could do it within 25 minutes and spread out and just say, "You know, when we walked in, just to make you aware, that we walked by and you could see you were in sight of the perpetrator. So, you may want to think about this. Many of you had your phones going and we can see this. Your door wasn't locked."

And so, it's kind of like debriefing and having that moment to show that it is. And I think the other thing too, that we learned is, when we first started doing it, saying, "We're gonna do a drill during second hour." Well, a lot of times these events that are happening, are happening before school or during lunch hour or during a passing period. You want to use every scenario. You know, if we do a drill, do you do it during passing period, now what do you do? All of the sudden where it's you don't have kids that are in classes. You pull people in. And it's just kind of training them to do these types of things just to protect.

Jill Anderson: How do you balance that when you have a million things to do as a school leader? And it might seem so unlikely, like, low down on the list of things to be thinking about?

Frank DeAngelis: Well, the one thing that I can assure you, when I make these phone calls, one of the first things they'll state to me, "I can't believe it happened here." And if you would've told me that Columbine could have happened at Columbine 23 years ago, I would have said no. I mean, this school, high test scores, kids going on to college, we had a lot of parental involvement. It was great. And no one expects it to happen in the community. I know yesterday when I was with Michele Gay, she was talking about the demographics of Newtown. The last place that you would expect this to happen. And so, there's not one set place, it's gonna happen here or here. And you, again, you have to just show the importance of drills and things.
You know, when I was growing up it was the, uh, drop, rock... or whatever. I can't even think of the terminology. Where you used to have these bomb shelters that you had to go in. And so, I think it's just preparing people of what to do. I mean, we had a situation near us, we had a mountain lion out. And what do you do? And it's protect kids. And I would hate to think if all of the sudden an event happened and people weren't trained on what to do. Because the training does save lives and things of that nature. And I think a key point is with what happened a few years ago at the Capitol. The insurrection there. There were several legislatures who had been trained, either through their training in high school or college that they were able to go into that situation and it saved lives.

So every day, wherever we are, if you have this training, how do you react? And I think just having people somewhat think about what they have to do if it happ- and it's not to scare, it's just, like, again, to prepare. You know, we hear all the time you hear, "This is just a test." Emergency this and that. And, you know, last year, what was a wake up call for me, um, in Colorado we had what they called the Marshall fires. And my wife and I were literally we were looking to evacuate. We got a warning, 115 mile an hour winds. And all the sudden we're looking out our window and I said, "We're not prepared for this. What do we do?" Well now, if this event was to happen, we know what we're gonna take, where we're gonna go, the route to getting out. And so, I think it's just... it's not to make people anxious. It's just to make sure that you're prepared for a situation.

Jill Anderson: And then one final question for you is about parents and school communities. And I've heard all sorts of crazy stories from school leaders about parents ultimately concerned with the safety of their school. And how do you kind of manage that as a leader?

Frank DeAngelis: That's a great question and I get asked that all the time. And I know that was a question with the kids going back to Uvalde. Um, after Columbine, the parents were so concerned. And the point that I made is I said, "Our school was probably the safest in the world." We had cameras. We had additional police officers. We had parents at every door. And it was quite interesting. And I think a lot of times in making these decisions, and I tell leaders this. You also need to get the input of the kids. And I had some students come into my office, knock on the door, and they said, "Mr. D, may we talk?" And I said yeah. They said, "We know you love us. We know you wanna take care of us and keep us safe. But one of the things that we're feeling right now is we're more anxious when we see all the additional officers. We see all the police cars parked in front. We see all this. And now, this is no longer like a school, that we are anxious realizing, 'Why is all this? Could it happen again?'"

And so, that was a wake up call. And so, there's a way to keep your school safe, but at the same time, make sure that it's conducive so learning can take place. You know, little things that I learned. I had a student come up to me and say, "Mr. D, every time you come on the PA system, my heart starts racing." I said, "Why?" They said, "Every time you come on, you tell us we're in a drill, or we're in a lockdown. And so, we hear your voice and all of the sudden, we know it's bad." And I never realized that. And all of the sudden, what I started doing, and I said, "This is Mr. D. Hey, it's Friday. Have a great weekend and looking forward to seeing you Monday." It's changing that mindset. And I think that's the most important thing.

And something that I share with leaders is, I never knew about, you know, triggers and trauma and things. And a wake up call for me is when we went back, first day over at Chatfield, our parents decided to put an archway of balloons up to welcome the kids back. Well, the balloons started popping and kids started diving. That's something I never learned in college. We could not serve Chinese food, because that was a meal the kids were eating. These were all things that I had to learn from behavioral scientists, psychologists. I spent five hours during the summer of '99 listening to different fire alarm sounds that were so different than what the kids had heard that had been locked in that building for over three hours. So, these are things that, as educators, whether you're teachers, whether you're administrators, that now we're learning how to deal with situations like this. Because I think, unfortunately, and you did an excellent job of pointing this out, people feel that if you don't talk about it, it's not gonna happen. And that's not a reason not to do some of the things that we're doing right now.

Jill Anderson: Hmm. I know you can't predict the future, but do you think there will come a day when we don't need to worry about this anymore? Where we've somehow solved this issue?

Frank DeAngelis: I'm hoping. But I think our schools are a microcosm of what's happening in our society. It was really quite interesting after Uvalde, and as I stated, when I start getting these texts, then the media calls. I've never did as many interviews as I did with other countries. I mean, we're talking England, we're talking Ireland, we're talking New Zealand, Australia, Germany. And they kept saying, "You know, Frank, we hear from America, you know, you have social media, you have kids that are crying out for help. But we don't have the mass shootings, or the number of homicides." And the first place they go to, of course, is we have tougher gun laws or things of that nature, you know? And you do look at some of the things. And I think one of the things that I'm encouraged about after Uvalde, is at least both sides of the aisles are getting together to listen. Because, um, and I share this all the time. I grew up in the 60s and I turned 18 right when the Vietnam War was ending. Our country was divided, but nothing to the point it is... it is right now.

And what I talk to people about, whether republican, democrat, independent, they're all of our kids. And we need to listen. We may not agree, but at least listen. And I, I have to applaud the students of Parkland, because after their event of Valentine's Day of 2018, they stood up and said, "You adults have let us down. And every time this happens, you tell us we're gonna make changes, but you're not. You better do something. Enough is enough." And I think that's where we need to be right now. And I think with Uvalde, someone said, "Frank, this is the same dialogue we heard when Parkland happened." In, you know, three years, or actually, four years later, we're having these same... But I ho- I'm hoping now that people say, "What can we do to make these schools safe?"

But don't underestimate... As a leader, what I tell... Don't underestimate the power that the kids have in stopping a lot of this. Because so many times things are broadcast, with social media and just being able. You know, in the state of Colorado, we have a 24/7 anonymous tip line called Safe To Tell. And not only does it prevent, you know, potential school shootings, but what we're learning now, and I think the pandemic has had a lot to do with it is just students that have suicide ideation in high school. But the thing that just kind of took me back is we've seen an increase in suicides amongst elementary kids. And that just, it breaks my heart. Another life lost, but why? And so, I think that's why the social emotional learning piece of it is so important.

Leaders, one of the things that I think is so important that I learned right after, when we went back, we didn't necessarily work on teaching our teachers how to teach about math and science and improving the curriculum or pedagogy. I actually had to bring someone in to talk about the social emotional learning needs. And I think we're seeing that a lot with the pandemic. Because these kids that are entering back in the classroom are not the same kids that were there prior to the pandemic. And so, talking to teachers, how do you relate to kids that developmentally, their minds have taken... you know, they were kind of placed on hold for a while. That social emotional. Because if a kid is hungry, a kid doesn't feel safe, I don't care what type of curriculum you have, what type of pedagogy you have, they're not gonna learn.

And so, I think it's all these pieces. And, you know, in... and finally, in summing up, people say, "Frank, it's been 23 years. Why do you continue to do it?" Because I really believe I'm doing it for my granddaughter and all these people that have lost their lives. And, and until the day, you know, I can no longer, I'm on the face [inaudible 00:32:40], and I'm not gonna be helpless, hopeless, and I'm never gonna give in.

Jill Anderson: Hmm.

Frank DeAngelis: It's my cause. And they're all of our kids.

Jill Anderson: Frank DeAngelis is a retired principal of Columbine High School. He is also a member of the Principal's Recovery Network, a network of principals and other school leaders who have dealt with school shootings. I'm Jill Anderson. This is the Harvard EdCast, produced by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Thanks for listening.


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