A horrifying incident took place at Mattoon High School on September 20. But there was no tragic loss of life because math and physical education teacher Angela McQueen was prepared.

When a 16-year old student opened fire in the cafeteria, wounding one student and grazing another with a bullet, witnesses credit McQueen with grabbing the shooter’s arm and subduing him.

According to the police, school staff were recently trained on how to deal with active shooters. While confrontation is considered “a strategy of last resort,” it can stop a shooter from hitting targets.

Angela McQueen went well beyond the call of duty. The situation to which she reacted is thankfully rare (studies show schools are among the safest places a child can be), but the desire by school employees to go the extra mile for students is not.

Teachers and education support professionals are deeply committed to student safety. That is why the Illinois Education Association has prioritized helping us identify students who may come to school carrying a heavy emotional weight from the outside world. These school employees, often by partnering with the local medical and social service communities, look for ways to connect with these troubled children and help them cope and succeed at school.

One example of this work is the Partnership for Resilience in the south suburbs. Another is happening in Macon and Piatt counties.

Working to bring the message of trauma-informed education to school buildings and districts across Illinois is a high priority for IEA.

Over the last two years, thanks to the IEA initiative, teachers and support staff statewide have received information and training on identifying students whose Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) could impact their ability to learn at school.

In the spring of 2015, social worker Nelba Marquez-Greene, the mother of Ana Grace, a victim of the Sandy Hook school shooting, addressed IEA’s annual Representative Assembly. Marquez-Greene has dedicated her life to identifying troubled youth and connecting them to the services they need.

Marquez-Greene, helped us develop the “Know Me, Know My Name” program wherein school personnel, through a process at the start of the school year, work to identify students most likely to slip the through the cracks. The teachers and school support staff build relationships and form meaningful bonds with these students. Science shows a healthy relationship with a caring adult can mean the difference between failure and success for many students.

The organization took the initiative to another level when the Illinois House passed an IEA-backed resolution calling for the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Illinois Department of Corrections “to become informed regarding well-documented detrimental short-term and long-term impacts to children and adults from serious traumatic childhood experiences.”

When ACEs are identified and addressed, students are more likely to show up to school, get better grades and graduate.

What Angela McQueen did was brave, heroic and very loving. Her compassion and dedication reflect the commitment to students that Illinois school employees bring to work every day.

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