MICHELE NORRIS, host:
When violence hits the classroom and claims several lives, the government, the media, the nation pays close attention. We often see non-stop news coverage, blue ribbon panels, national conferences on school safety. We saw that recently after the shootings at Virginia Tech and we've seen it time and time again after mass killings in Columbine, Paducah, in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
But what happens when the violence is systemic? When the students don't die all at once but over time in several places - a shooting here, a stabbing there, a kid beaten to death with a blunt object?
This week, the Chicago Tribune called attention to the fact that so far this year, at least 27 Chicago public school students have been killed. That comes out to about one death every 10 days.
Stephanie Banchero wrote that story and she wondered what happens to the teachers and the students left behind when violence claims a young life.
Stephanie Banchero joins us now.
Stephanie, please put those numbers into context for us - 27 deaths. Mainly shootings?
Ms. STEPHANIE BANCHERO (Staff Writer, Chicago Tribune): Twenty of those were shootings. We had four stabbings, strangulation, a kid was beaten - but overall, shootings were most of them died.
NORRIS: And age group?
Ms. BANCHERO: Oh, they range. I mean, we had a kid as young as 11 and we had several 19-year-old boys who were in alternative schools.
NORRIS: Now, some might hear this and assume that much of this is attributed to gang violence. Is that the case?
Ms. BANCHERO: Absolutely not. There were several kids that, you know, were involved in gang activities but most of these kids were innocent victims who were killed. The most recent death, a young man, Blair Holt was riding a bus home from school. A kid got on the bus, open fire and shot him accidentally. Another kid was found burned in a van. So, they're not all gang related.
NORRIS: Did any of these deaths actually occur in the schoolhouse building?
Ms. BANCHERO: No. All of them were outside the school.
NORRIS: So you wanted to actually find out what happened inside the school, how schools cope when there's suddenly an empty desk in the classroom. What did you find out?
Ms. BANCHERO: I went into one school - Avondale Elementary School in Chicago -where two boys had recently been stabbed to death by their mother's boyfriend. And both of these boys are very popular - have been at the school for quite a while. And what I found is there's a lot of depression and sadness - and especially with some of the younger kids - just an inability to know how to deal with their feelings. They're afraid to talk about it. A lot of them are still in denial. They don't want to admit that anything happened.
And then another feeling that was quite prevalent at this school is, you know, the am I next? Because many of these kids are similarly situated meaning their at home with single mothers. They were afraid that somehow they would be next. And the counselors and the therapists all have to deal with those feelings that the kids are having.
NORRIS: You say counselors and therapists, does the school system send in extra counselors and therapists after this happens?
Ms. BANCHERO: Yes. Chicago has a very robust and vigorous crisis response team. They send in many people. In this school, they send in at least three counselors. They also contract with some local hospitals that send in nurses and therapists. And they're in the school, at least in this case, for at least three weeks. And now, they're there as long as they feel they're needed.
And in this school, I mean, aside from just the kids, the teachers were completely broken up - one teacher could barely teach. Many of them said, you know, they would walk into a classroom, see the kids and just breakdown.
NORRIS: Was there a certain amount of introspection in the Chicago Tribune newsroom about this story? I mean, when these individual deaths happened, do they make front-page news?
Ms. BANCHERO: Well, some of them did. Like I said, we had 27 kids who were killed - I would say, maybe four or five of them made front-page news. I mean, I'll be honest, some of the kids we didn't even write about. Either because it happened over the weekend and we didn't know it.
NORRIS: But you have a newspaper that does publish over the weekend.
Ms. BANCHERO: Yeah, right. But we didn't know what school they were in. So, you know, often times it's difficult to get information. However, yeah, it definitely caused a lot of introspection in the newsroom about how we cover the deaths of kids.
NORRIS: How do you take those lessons and carry them forward?
Ms. BANCHERO: I think we are - I mean, journalists are often cynical. And, you know, we see - I open the paper over the weekend and I see a 15-year-old kid was shot in what police say was a gang-related dispute. I mean, typically, I'd read past that. It's an awful thing to say but it's true. Now, when I see that I'm going to say okay, you know what? That's a kid.
NORRIS: Stephanie, thanks a lot for talking to us.
Ms. BANCHERO: Thank you.
NORRIS: Stephanie Banchero is a reporter with the Chicago Tribune. So far this year in the city of Chicago, 27 public school students have been killed.
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