School Authorities Are Obligated to De-Escalate. Period.

upturned classroom chairWorking with teenagers can really suck sometimes. It’s humbling and frustrating and it can drive you to drink. We were all teenagers of varying degrees of horrifying at some point. Even the most mild of teens can be a tad horrifying. It’s almost like teenagers are from another planet at times. But no one, no one, and especially not those who choose to work with teenagers, should ever grab a teenager out of a chair and throw a teenager across a room.

If you don’t know, this time I’m responding to news out of a South Carolina high school.   And let’s just set aside the safety and sanity of the girl who was thrown across the room for a second. The School Safety Officer who chose to do so also put other students in danger. When he flipped the chair, it could have hit the girl sitting behind the altercation. The girl who was the object of his actions could have kicked or hit someone else as well. This is not to mention the impact of witnessing an attack such as this. Witnessing violence hurts young brains.

So let us focus on the central incident. According to various reports, the School Safety Officer built up to his actions. He cleared the desk, he moved other desks and students out of the way, he prepared for a physical confrontation. And as someone who has dealt with various discipline issues involving teens, those actions are fairly expected and they can avoid further problems. Teenagers are unpredictable when challenged. And having a tug-of-war with a teenager about leaving a classroom is a challenge. It’s a power play.

However, when the representative of School Authority chose to turn over the student’s chair instead of stand over her chair, when he chose to throw her across the floor instead of repeating firmly the request to leave the room, when he chose defensive anger over swallowing his pride, he chose poorly.

School Safety Officers and Police Officers assigned to schools need to be chosen carefully and trained with sensitivity and high expectations. It is not easy to deflect taunts and insults and dares; doing so takes healthy ego and empathy. Few people are consistently successful. Teenagers are experts at finding buttons to push, and their emotions can be raw and unfiltered.

But School Authorities are obligated to de-escalate, defuse, dismantle situations whenever possible. Interacting with students is not a battle to win. Working with high school students is the long game; winning results won’t be seen for years in most cases. It is so very important to remember that every student is someone’s child, and School Authorities need to take In Loco Parentis seriously. Seriously enough to always, always be the adult in the room.  And that aggravating, rude, rambunctious, rebellious teen you see today will probably turn out just fine. Or as fine as you did, anyway.


By the by. I didn’t address race issues in this post, and that was a conscious decision. I’ve seen School Safety Officers of many backgrounds behave in overly aggressive ways with students as well as angelically patient ways. However, we cannot deny that Black students are arrested at a much higher rate than students of other racial backgrounds. Arrests are no small thing. It’s serious business and can affect a young person’s life in hugely negative ways regardless of the judicial outcome. Black students are arrested at a rate that’s almost double the percent they represent in U.S. schools. That’s no glitch.

We all have inherent biases (yes, you.), and those who deny it are most susceptible to allowing them to grow. School employees in authoritative positions must be both aware of and willing to confront their biases when responding to typical teenage behavior. De-escalate first and teach by example, so that the students will be in school to learn better behavior later.

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Glad I Saw It: Book Shelves


There is an undercurrent of anticipation in a book store with too many books. As if there is such a thing as too many books. A carefully curated and neatly displayed bookstore is a joy and a relaxed pleasure to browse. It’s a place you can pop in for a last minute gift or a vacation read with confidence. It’s the place you know every book displayed is recommended and a good read. It’s where surprises on the shelves feel familiar and welcoming.

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Do Something That Matters: Pass NJ Bill S2360


Update: The NJ Senate voted to override Christie’s veto. Now the NJ Assembly needs to vote.

Of all the issues surrounding guns, mental health has been the one area where people seem to be on the same side. “It’s mental health, not guns” is the chant heard from those who advocate for looser gun regulations. And “Mental health needs to be addressed” is shouted from the rooftops after each mass shooting that makes its way to national attention. It’s the easier part of the gun issue because everyone agrees that people with mental issues shouldn’t have guns. Don’t we?

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Glad I Saw It: Unexpected Little Free Library

IMG_3463How cool is this? It’s a Little Free Library — with seating! I happened upon this recently on Myrtle Avenue in Montclair, and it got me to pull over and check it out.

I strongly suspect this is the work of Elizabeth Jacobs, who also created the memorial to heroism, Tony’s Bench, located next to Montclair High School.

PSA: The door doesn’t pull open. It slides. It took me a few attempts to figure that out.

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Gun Culture is No Joke: Of Puppies, Priests, and Football

On the ontennessee-mckaylae hand, we have a priest pointing a long gun at an 8-year old over a Cowboys/Giants rivalry. The parishioners say it’s “in jest” and no big deal. Haha. So funny!

On the other hand, we have an 11-year old pointing a shotgun at another 8-year old and shooting her to death over not being able to see puppies. She is dead. Not so funny anymore.

One witness to the priest’s lack of discretion said that the priest pointing a gun at a child “pales in comparison to how bad it looks for a prosecutor to hastily arrest a well-regarded priest for serious felonies.” That’s gun culture, for you. I wonder if it’s just a big joke if someone points a probably-fake-but-might-be-real gun at you in a parking lot. Haha. So funny. Continue reading

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Every Little Bit Helps: #PurplePurse Fundraising for Domestic Violence Outreach

“I don’ t need that — I don’t hit my wife.”

PurplePurse2015HeaderNot long ago, I tabled for Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates at a farmer’s market. It was pretty quiet, with some people walking by uncomfortably, and a few cracking jokes, like the one above. I also had one or two people strike up conversations that began as seemingly sincere questions and turned into jokes about wives taking away credit cards or playful spankings. And I get it. Domestic Violence is not an easy topic to discuss.

On the other hand, I was also able to talk with and share resources with a woman who shared her abuse from almost two decades ago. She’d never sought help or support, and she was clearly still traumatized. I also spoke with a man who listened and then teared up as he shook my hand and said, “Thank you so much just for being here.”

Those people make the jokers easy to humor. And sometimes the jokers are covering up pain as well.

Because domestic violence is a sticky topic, it doesn’t have the same public exposure other issues receive — yes it affects someone you know. Probably more than just one someone.

During the month of October, the Allstate Foundation is sponsoring the #PurplePurse Challenge, and S.O.F.I.A. is honored to be taking part for the second year in a row. Please consider chipping in!

The first 50 donors will receive a genuine Purple Purse Charm — and we have a generous matching challenge grant for up to $5000! Truly, every little bit helps.

Can’t donate? Please share our donation link and spread the word! Thank you!

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Glad I Saw It: I See You

It’s a few weeks into the school year, and for many students it feels like class and friends and expectations are getting settled. For other kids and their families there are stubborn wrinkles in academic and social circles that cause stress and occasional weeping over homework or Facebook posts. For some families, however, the modus operandi is flipped. Constant vigilance and anxiety over children’s needs being met is how the new school year starts — and continues. And for those families, I want to share what a friend posted on Facebook recently. You are not alone.



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No Peace of Mind at the Trader Joe’s

Who can measure the despair and sorrow of an innocent caught in the tangle of a heartless throw-away text?

I can be quite literal at times. Perhaps it comes from being all too sincere and dewy-eyed in a cynical world of one-upmanship and sardonic sneers. Perhaps it comes from hoping to see the best in people. Always. Perhaps it comes from the exhaustion of attempting to explain the difference (and not-so-difference) between simile and metaphor to hundreds of students over the years. But yeah, it’s probably just laziness.

Anyhow. It happened in Trader Joe’s. I texted an innocent question, offering to “pick something up” for a friend. She (let’s call her Amy) accepted, and even gave a specific request and location of a needed item.


Now, I don’t make it to Trader Joe’s often. It’s kind of far for my narrow definition of close-enough, and I usually end up overshooting completely or turning into the Tick Tock Diner by accident. So you can imagine that my familiarity with its products and layout is limited. I don’t point this out as an excuse for my naiveté; it’s just a fact.

I did my own TJ’s shopping (mostly frozen tamales and mini-desserts), and then I went looking for Peace of Mind. Nothing. I asked a young man in a flowery vest about Trader Buddha’s Peace of Mind Bars. He directed me to try Whole Foods. “A lot of people get us mixed up with them. No offense.” I insisted, and showed him the text with the clarification, “I don’t think Whole Foods would call their product Trader Buddha.” I’m so logical. Nope. Nothing. He knew they didn’t carry it. In fact, he informed me, with a smirk, that Trader Joe’s doesn’t have numbered aisles.

As I checked out my frozen treats, I tried one more time with the cashier. Nope. Nothing.

Dejected, I had to admit defeat. And that’s when my trusting innocence was flattened.

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But at least I got to work in a nice metaphor reference.

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Glad I Saw It: Men of the Mounted

IMG_3218Seen in the window of Chameleon Antiques. My poorly stifled giggles are further proof that I have the mind of a 14-year old boy.

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Good Things Come in Heavier Than Expected Packages

FullSizeRender copySo, I when I heard from SheKnows Media that I had an actual award coming for the BlogHer15 Voices of the Year, I expected a certificate. Which would have been cool. I would have filed it in my slim, but not empty, “Awards” folder, smiled, felt grateful, and then closed the drawer.

Instead, I received a package the other day. And it was kind of heavy. Inside was a fancy velvet box (super soft!) with a pretty ribbon tied in a bow. I half-wondered if it had been sent to the wrong address, but I opened the box and yup, there was my name (spelled correctly, no less!) on a sleek, round definitely-award-looking glass item. I picked it up, turned it around, weighed it in my hand, and said, “Huh.” The kids were more impressed with the fancy box than the award.

The only other tangible, non-paper award I’ve received was a generic “drama award” my high school gave out to the people who hadn’t received any other awards during their years before graduation. I still have it at my parents’ house. The little gold man has a birthday ribbon around his neck. It has my name (spelled incorrectly), but no reason for the award. Just “Theater Award” etched on. It was for those of us who did all the grunt work (oh the inseams I measured!) and didn’t get to take bows at the end of the show. It was an after-thought. And I knew it. In fact, I’d skipped the Senior Awards Night to work extra hours at Friendly’s, so I shouldn’t complain.

So this SheKnows/BlogHer/VOTY award is kind of my first real award. Which is pretty fun at 45 years old. The problem is, it’s for a post that’s more than 18 months old. And I haven’t been writing much. And I don’t feel like writing much. I’m distracted and unfocused and kind of done with sharing. So the award feels hollow and fake an undeserved. We’re supposed to always grow and get better, stronger, more perfect, right?

So for now, this first tangible award of mine sits on the mantle (that’s where awards go, yes?) next to a paper mache turtle and a peacock-monster-dragon thing. It looks good there. And maybe seeing it up there with my kids’ creations will inspire new creations of my own.

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