5 ways to arm America’s teachers

There’s no ignoring it. The topic is everywhere. Our country is engaged in a national debate about gun control, and in many cases, whether or not we should arm our teachers.

I certainly have concerns about putting guns in closer proximity to our children, since the absence of guns from their homes and communities has been proven the most effective way of preventing firearm-related injuries within this age group.

And while the conversation about gun control is long overdue, I feel compelled to point out that there is a more important discussion when it comes to arming teachers.

Far less controversial and already proven “arms” exist, and we actually know a lot about what works when it comes to ensuring our children stay safe and healthy while at school. Here are a few ideas.

Books. Helping children grow up with a love of reading in a literacy-rich environment is crucial for their future success and well being. Every educator and pediatrician I’ve met agrees – children must spend their first few years of school learning to read in order to spend the rest of their lives reading to learn. The sad fact is that far too many child care settings and elementary schools lack the books (or the budget) needed to make this happen. And Omaha is not immune to this problem.

Breakfast. As the co-author of Food Fights, a book that offers solutions to kid-related nutritional challenges, it should come as no surprise that I believe that good nutrition (all day every day) is essential for kids. It’s needed for physical health, concentration and the ability to learn. The fact of the matter is, hungry children simply don’t learn as well as others. So it’s time to ask the tough questions: How do we provide all children, especially those who are disadvantaged, with a nutritious breakfast?

School nurses and other health professionals. Our health and ability to learn are inextricably intertwined, especially in our children’s earliest years. Unfortunately, budget cuts often leave our schools with little, if any, access to a school nurse or other health professional. Even fewer child care centers have this much-needed access, despite the existence of clear justification for these health consultants.

Vaccines and other germ-fighting tools. Making sure children and teachers are fully vaccinated is so important. This also means insuring measures are in place to limit the spread of infection and missed school days. We need to arm our teachers not only with paper and pencils but with vaccinated children, cleaning supplies and disinfecting procedures. Access to hand washing sinks, soap, hand sanitizer, bleach water and/or disinfecting wipes are small investments that can yield big returns.

Children who are ready to learn. Key words here: When they enter kindergarten. We have irrefutable evidence that proves investing in early childhood and a strong foundation is hugely important for safety, health and lifelong well being. We also know this foundation must be laid in the earliest years of a child’s life – well before he or she enters kindergarten. That’s why efforts such as First Five Nebraska and Educare are so crucial.