Murkowski seeks student solutions in visit to Eagle River High

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 12:01
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski shares a laugh with Eagle River teacher Valerie Baalerud, who was one of just 44 in her profession to receive a Milken Educator Award on Feb. 1. (Photo by Naomi Klouda for the Star)
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked students for input into solutions for school shooting after the latest in Parkland, Fla., when 17 were killed and dozens more wounded by a suspect with known mental health issues. (Photo by Naomi Klouda for the Star)
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with students who are members of the America Student Government Association during her Feb. 20 visit to Eagle River High School. (Photo by Naomi Klouda for the Star)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski visited Eagle River High School students Tuesday with a question she wanted to hear answered by students.

After the recent mass shooting with 17 killed and dozens more wounded at a high school in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, what should Congress do?

“I need your help,” she told Danielle Lewis’ student government class Feb. 20. “My reality is that I go back to Washington, D.C., on Monday and there is an expectation being built that in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Florida, Congress will have the answer.”

She asked, “Where do we begin? Is it gun control? Is it making sure mental health services are available?”

The class ranged from freshmen to seniors who are members of the America Student Government Association, or ASGA.

Murkowski said she thought she would hear about the need for gun control, or questions about why Congress hasn’t already done more.

Instead, the students told her what they are doing at Eagle River High. A program called “Start with Hello” is in action as an outreach to students who may be feeling isolated and alone. The program teaches students from the second grade on up to include those who may be dealing with chronic social isolation. The goal is to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness in the school.

Murkowski said she was pleasantly surprised to hear of the solution-oriented nature of the student’s answers.

“We recognize there is no easy fix or proverbial silver bullet when it comes to these mass shootings,” Murkowski told them. “I was surprised at how quick and ready they were with a very matter of fact answer. We need to spot the signs and react on them. It’s a real testament to the training that’s going on. We’ve worked aggressively to work with youth suicide in Alaska.”

Poor mental health is a factor shared among those who perpetrated the school shootings, she said.

The idea now across the nation, learned in the tragic aftermath of several school shootings, is to encourage young people to report troubling behavior, whether it’s to teachers or a counselor or a principal.

The Sandy Hook group that emerged after the shooting in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school started the Start with Hello program.

Another group, Say Something, that gathered after another school shooting has come up with an app that allows students to pass on information about telling signs of trouble in an anonymous format, Murkowski said.

“As they moved forward and felt frustration at the lack of addressing gun control, they came to focus on school safety by identifying those that are troubled and help to facilitate changes,” she said.

After the 1999 Columbine High School massacre when 12 students and a teacher were killed, Congress moved forward to pass the Stop Violence Act, Murkowski told the students. One solution she is considering is amending that law to add a training and assessment requirement to it.

During her Eagle High School visit, Murkowski also conducted discussions in the history class of Valerie Baalerud, who received a Milken Educator Award in a surprise ceremony Feb. 1 at Eagle River High. Murkowksi then headed to the FBI headquarters in Downtown Anchorage.

There, the discussion of what to do about school shootings continued, she said. This followed on her Monday visit to the Commonwealth North meeting where protestors criticized Murkowski and Rep. Don Young for accepting campaign donations from the National Rifle Association.

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