Young adult fiction: Gun violence, a school lockdown, and prevention

by author Sarah Lynn Scheerger

Are You Still There

The idea for Are You Still There originated after being on a school campus during a lock down. Teachers are instructed to lock their classroom doors and not open them to anyone. Of course that’s logical, because in the case of an active shooter, a teacher could unwittingly let the shooter into their classroom. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what could happen to the kids who happened to be out of class when the lockdown was initiated. When I was a student, we didn’t have lock downs at school, but I could instantaneously put myself in my own teenage shoes, and envision myself stuck in a bathroom during a lockdown.

The idea moved very quickly from there. I, like so many others, am saddened and frightened by the number of acts of school violence. I read an article in the Washington Post that indicated there are now more mass shootings in the U.S. than days in a year. It boggles my mind that we have not yet found better solutions for these problems.

In college, I was on a real crisis helpline. It was the best experience throughout my college years. Helping other people gave my own life a purpose, and the alliances formed with my fellow listeners were like gold. I finally felt at home.

While writing this book, I was essentially trying to climb into my character Stranger’s brain. What a sad, lonely, and angry place to be. Spending a lot of time there led me to a lightbulb moment. It surrounds what I’ll call the Four P’s: Problems, Pain, Perspective and Permanency.

Problems: We all have problems. We don’t always know other people have them, because some people hide them better than others. And some people don’t talk about them. But we’ve all got them.

Pain: We all experience pain. And it sucks. Emotional pain can be overwhelming.

Perspective: Over time, our perspective changes. This happens to everyone. Things that seemed important or particularly painful at one point in our lives fade over time. They may still be painful, but not as painful. Sometimes we see that the pain sparked personal growth.

Permanency: Some choices in life are permanent. If you ever make a permanent decision when you’re highly emotional and in significant pain, then you can’t benefit from the perspective you’ll gain over your life. Example—violent or self-harming acts. Any time young people choose a violent act as a solution to a problem, they’ve forgotten that their perspective will change over time. They’ve forgotten that their emotional pain will lessen in intensity. I wonder how many violent acts could have been avoided if people could press “pause” in their lives and fast forward five years to see if they’d still care.

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So here’s a fifth “P.”

Press “pause.”

Wait it out.

Gain some perspective.

Remember, it gets better.

 

Young adult fiction: Gun violence, a school lockdown, and prevention

5 ways to experience back to school

Our authors dive into their childhoods to describe a memorable school experience as you go back to school this fall.

Linda Joy with best friend Lori bus stop first day jr high

                                   Pictured: Author Linda Joy Singleton with best friend Lori                                       at the bus stop on the first day of junior high school.

While starting a new school year could sometimes cause anxiety, especially when my best friend was going to a different school, the one thing that made returning to school fun was my back-to-school shopping day with Mom. I have three siblings so going out with Mom alone was rare. Before school started every year, each of us kids went out individually to buy school supplies and have lunch with Mom. After buying paper, pencils, binders and a new outfit to wear on the first day of school, we’d climb up to the lunch counter at Woolworths and order burgers and fries. I think I enjoyed this special lunch more than getting new clothes. And I’d always end this fun outing with a milk shake for dessert. –Linda Joy Singleton

WhitneyStewart back to school

Pictured: Author Whitney Stewart as a young child

Back to school was always hard for me. I LOVED summer swimming and bike riding. And trips to the penny-candy store. But one thing made back to school fun—BOOK FAIRS! My mom is a big reader too, and she’d let me buy an armload of books at the fair. I could trade them for my allowance. I’d stack my new books on my desk and stare at them, dreaming of the stories I’d discover. I’d smell my books and run my hands over the clean pages. I’ve never lost that love of books—new or old. As long as the teachers let me read, I was a happy girl. –Whitney Stewart 

Nancy Viau ponytail school pic

Pictured: Author Nancy Viau as a child

I couldn’t wait to go back to school every September! I had my pencils sharpened, notebooks labeled, and my Scotch-plaid school bag packed and sitting at the front door by August 1st. I have very fond memories of my metal lunchbox, a favorite back-to-school item. After all, it was also Scotch-plaid like my school bag, and it came with a matching Thermos, which meant my mom trusted me with something that could shatter in an instant if dropped. I carried it like it was a glass goblet. When the first day came, I jumped out of bed the second I was called. I dove into my outfit (skirt, cardigan, knee socks, black and white saddle shoes), and skipped to the bus stop. No one was there, of course. I was always an hour early. That back-to-school enthusiasm never faded in high school or college. Always first in class and last to leave; I never wanted to miss a thing. –Nancy Viau

sarah lynn scheerger in 7th grade

Pictured: Author Sarah Lynn Scheerger in seventh grade

Middle school is a time of change. Changing classes, changing friends, changing bodies, changing “out” for P.E. (ugh.) One special part of my routine did not change. Our English teacher, Mrs. Moore, read out loud to us for the first fifteen minutes of every class period. I had English right after lunch, and I remember sitting in my seat, listening to the shushing sound of the air conditioner, and drinking in the story. It was one of my favorite parts of each day. I particularly remember her reading the book Tuck Everlasting out loud. After she read, she’d pause and ask us what we thought of the story. Good times. –Sarah Lynn Scheerger

Alison Ashley Formento back to school

Pictured: Author Alison Formento in first grade

When I do author visits, one of the throwback photos I share is my first grade school picture. The dress I’m wearing is made from a fabric with an autumn leaf print. I loved this dress because I felt like I was wearing a tree. I loved and still love climbing trees, hiking through a thick forest, and sitting under the shade of a tree to read a book. I was a daydreamer (I still am!) in school, often looking out of the classroom windows. It helped me focus to see the trees behind our school, especially when writing or tackling math problems. It’s no different now. If I gaze at the trees in my yard, or take a nice walk in my local park, I’m always more focused when I sit down to write.  –Alison Formento

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to experience back to school