Hey Young World

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Henderson Junior High School yearbook picture

…Reflecting on surviving the seventh grade & a school shooting by Stacey James McAdoo…

Seven is said to be the world’s most favorite number. There are seven days of the week. Seven continents. Seven wonders of the world. Some associate the number as being divine, perfect, and a representation of completion. And if you’ve ever played craps, then you know its roll is considered lucky. Seven for me makes me think of my 1988-1989 school year. Divine, perfect, complete, and lucky are most definitely not the words that immediately come to mind. I was in the seventh grade…living in a new house across town. It was not a newly built house, but a new to me house with new family members whom I had recently acquired. My new home was a seven-minute car drive to Henderson (my newly assigned junior high school). “Colors,” both the title soundtrack by Ice-T and the movie, were hot. Real hottt. And it seemed like the very next day after they were released, gangs were suddenly everywhere in Little Rock.

Back then seventh grade was the transitional year from elementary to junior high. It’s where we were expecting the rubber to meet the road. We had been warned about peer pressure, that our bodies would be changing and that our teachers would no longer baby us. We understood that we would be facing more challenges and expected to be able to keep up and rise to the occasion. Change was not something I was particularly fond of. Yet, suddenly I was faced with a lot. I always had an unhealthy amount of anxiety centered around the starting of a new school year…and now for the first time, I would have seven new teachers instead of one.

None of the lectures, warnings, or advice could have ever prepared me for many of the things I would experience that year – namely, the shooting death of a classmate seven minutes before the start of the school day while we all waited outside on the field for the bell to ring to let us inside.

My mind is peculiar and often very protective of me. Sometimes she blocks out whole passages of time and erases people all together as a means of self-preservation. Other times she etches every detail of an image, sound, or memory to the inside of my eyes and ears. I’m not exactly sure how she knows which memories or traumas I can handle and which ones I cannot – for there are some that still dance around in my head that I prefer she would have traded out.

I don’t know where this blog entry is going. Or why I’m up writing in the wee hours of the night/morning instead of sleeping so that I can be fully rested and prepared for the students that I will greet shortly. After all, seventh grade was thirty years ago, and he wasn’t a “friend friend”. Plus, they let us call our parents and take the rest of that day off to get our minds right before returning to school to hardly ever speak of the incident again.

There are a few things that I do know:

  • There have been at least seven documented school shootings in Arkansas since then.
  • To this day, I don’t like to be surrounded by crowds — I always must have elbow room and space to run.
  • I’ve been teaching my kids to pay attention to everyone and everything around them…to identify all exits…and how best to respond to an active shooter in various vicinities for as long as I can remember.
  • I’ll be glad when zero becomes the world’s new favorite number. Maybe then that will be the number associated with school/mass shootings and deaths to gun violence.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time I’m asked to speak at Henderson’s 8th-grade promotion life, instead of death, will be on my mind.

20 thoughts on “Hey Young World

  1. Stacy Pendergrast May 28, 2019 — 7:46 am

    Amen.

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  2. Yeah, Henderson Jr. High (and LRCH) definitely afforded me an education “outside of the classroom” that I didn’t quite realize until I went to college and saw that everyone didn’t think the way I thought in a crowded place. They were very much carefree in situations where I was paying attention to exits and reading people’s body language.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing this memory. Twenty years later, people are still experiencing shootings at schools and other places that should be safe. Being aware of your surroundings is definitely an important and necessary reality. Hopefully, a change will come!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Even when writing about a tragic incident that happened many years ago, your words are still powerful and insightful. I have thought about the shooting over the years, and remember how particularly hard the young men took it. Some were silent, some rested their head on their desk, and many cried. That was a sad day at HJHS, even to this day. I did not teach EB, but did teach the author of this blog. You were a great student and an even more amazing woman. Whether you know it or not, you are a consummate educator: The student has become the master. Thank you, Stacey James (McAdoo).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I soooo adore you, Mr. Baker. Normally I think everything you say is right, but I know I wasn’t a great student. You simply chose to see the best of/in me. 😘

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  5. Zero can’t get here soon enough. The mind is a funny thing, protects and promotes resiliency but those traumas seem to come up eventually.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Veronica Jackson May 28, 2019 — 10:37 pm

      I experienced my first “school” shooting in high school! It actually happened on the school bus as students were being dropped off at home. The shooter shot a student and then forced his way off the bus by pointing his gun at the driver. We were told about it the next day and there were grief counselors available for any students who wanted counseling. It was a hard thing for me to understand because school was always my safe place. Unfortunately, I experienced another “school” shooting on my first day of college at the University of Arkansas. The shooter was a graduate student who shot his faculty advisor. All I remember is running and falling when my new school sandals broke. My mom heard the news before I could make it to my room to call home and she was determined to make me come back home. Reading this brings up so many emotions that I didn’t know still existed.

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      1. This is crazy. I remember hearing about the UofA shooting. In all of the years of our friendship, I never put two and two together and associated you being there at the time. On a lighter note, you clearly were hauling butt for your sandals to break!

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  6. Monika Romain May 28, 2019 — 6:09 pm

    Seems like yesterday, maybe because I knew the murder victim. Maybe because the same day, a few hours later, someone decided to light fire crackers in the hall, resulting in everyone running and screaming. Henderson Jr. High was a tough school. The majority of the people, including myself, had a chip on their shoulder, always guarded and always ready for a battle/war (even when a battle was not necessary). Phew…..

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    1. I don’t remember you having a chip on your shoulder. I recall it always being as soft as pillow and your smile as bright as the sun.😘

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  7. Mindy Williams May 28, 2019 — 10:53 pm

    I remember when you randomly asked me if I had told my son to locate the exits in places he attends. I appreciated the advice, but until now, I didn’t know where it had come from. That traumatic experience had lingering consequence, namely your precautions and underlying fears.
    This issue is close to you and all of us who are educators. While at school, I’m alway conscious of what “could” happen. One day a bus driver propped the door open, and I almost lost my shit. (Lol). It was then that I realize that the thought is ever present. I, too, look forward to the day that zero becomes the favorite number.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hate that it’s taken so many other shootings for the experts to finally start saying some real/practical advice.

      Now I don’t know what I think about that training where they were lining teachers up, bringing them inside a room and shooting them with pellets or whatever it was … but I do know that we (parents, students and the entire educational system) need to have a real plan. If anyone has ever attended a large event like a concert or something then you know what happens when everyone in the same location tries to use the phone — the phone lines jam. So exit plans, identified safe spaces and reunion places need to be thought about and communicated ahead of time.

      Having my kids as students at the school I taught at was a constant scare. I had to remind them that if something were to happen they were not to run to my room or worry about me (or each other), they were to get as far away from the building as possible and call/check on us later after they safe. We talked about specific doors and streets to run outta/down.

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  8. Melinda Milloway May 28, 2019 — 11:48 pm

    I didn’t ‘enjoy’ reading this, but your reflection is powerful and very thoughtful. You never told me this before. I would have never thought that happy smiling girl in my class ever had any of these struggles. I had 3 daughters and a granddaughter, and 7th and 8th grade made me worry over their confidence and comfort more than any other time. They really struggled with making new friends, etc., and my heart hurt for them. It is sad that you remember such early teen times, but the death of a classmate, too. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My smile hides a lot. It’s probably why it’s so big.🤣 I’m a lot like most of the kids I teach, for the most part trauma and tragedy is simply viewed a normal. And then when we discover that not everyone has had to survive or overcome the things we have we don’t necessarily share or broadcast it to our teachers because we don’t want to feel pitied or be treated differently.

      One of the most challenging balancing acts as the AVID Coordinator was trying to get my colleagues to either see or see beyond the students trauma and trying to encourage the students to not like it cripple them.

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  9. Stacey, this is wonderful! When I read your writing, a few things always happen. I gain perspective that causes me to stop and to be thoughtful. I always feel like I am in your shoes! I learn more about you, and I feel your determination to make an impact and to protect your students, your future students, and even my students.

    I LOVE that you refer to your mind as “she”! How personal that is! I wonder why I have never done that! I think I will from now on! I also love hearing that you need elbow room and space. I am that person, too!

    I couldn’t agree more that zero needs to be our new favorite number, especially when it come to violence in our schools. There has to be a reason why we have to be a part of those horrible moments. I can’t help but wonder how many kids’ lives you have been saved because you have taught them to be aware of everyone around them at all times. How many tragedies have been avoided? Invisible moments that never occur, thank God, but should be appreciated. After reading this, I will teach my students to be more aware. Maybe that’s how we reach zero.

    Thank you, Stacey!

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    1. Erica, I can’t think of a worthy response to your thoughtful comments. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. And what you said about determination to make an impact and to protect students is exactly the feel that I get from you which is probably why we connected so easily. 😘

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  10. Cristil Rycraw June 2, 2019 — 12:09 am

    Stacey I never realized what you were going through to this extent but you seemed to tackle everything head on. You were and still are a strong woman. You were my friend and I appreciate our friendship.
    I have so many fond memories of junior high school but I cannot forget that morning. At that point, that was the scariest day of my life. It was a very sad day for so many children and you’re absolutely correct when you say there was hardly any mention of it again.
    Keep writing an inspiring Stacey!

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    1. I read an article about Chance the Rapper by Hanif Abdurraqib yesterday in a workshop about using hip hop journalism to develop critical readers and writers. It was full of so many great lines. One of my favorite lines was “The soundtrack to grief isn’t always as dark as the grief itself.” I, too, have some fond memories from that time period. And I’m glad that we were able to find, see and bask in the light as well.

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