KINGSTON — Annie Slease saved her personal story for last, after bringing the Sandy Hook Promise anti-violence program to Wyoming Valley West Middle School.
When he was 13, her son went into his older brother’s room to retrieve stolen socks. He reached into a drawer, and found a loaded handgun.
“He didn’t immediately share that with me,” she recalled. “He silently watched his older brother spiral into depression.”
The story has a happy ending, as the younger brother eventually did talk to his mom about what he had found. Both sons, now adults, are doing well.
But the experience prompted Slease to become part of the Sandy Hook Promise program begun in the wake of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., in 2012. Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 first-grade students and six adults.
The program stresses the need for students to watch out for warning signs that someone may be contemplating a violent act and to speak to a trusted adult about what they saw.
The violent tragedies in school “could all be prevented if we learn when to say something, how to say something, and who to say it to,” Slease said told students gathered in the school auditorium Friday. After such tragedies, she noted, students often say things like “I knew this would happen,” or “he told me he was going to do it.”
Too often, people keep quiet about such suspicions, perhaps out of fear or loyalty to fellow students, but Slease said “saying something” is not the same as “telling on someone.”
The difference: “When you tell on someone, you’re being a rat. When you say something, you’re being brave.”
Slease went through some of the signs that something may have changed in a person, including withdrawal, bullying or aggression, holding grudges, blaming others for one’s failures, giving away belongings or showing a fascination with guns or school shootings.
She asked the students to think of two trusted adults they would be comfortable talking to, one at school and one out of school, then picked two students to act out a scene in which they told her about concerns they had for a friend they dubbed “Squidward,” a cartoon character from “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
She also had them take the Sandy Hook Promise pledge. “I promise to look for warning signs, signals and threats, to act immediately and take it seriously, and to say something to a trusted adult to help create a safer and healthier school.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish