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How K-8 schools can affect our children's social and emotional development

Child psychologists say a shooting at school can lead to anxiety and even aggression, no matter how old a child is.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kindergarten through 8th grade school buildings are becoming more common. However, shootings, like at Cummings K-8 Optional School Thursday, raise the question of whether it's best to have such a wide age range of children in the same building.

Child psychologists said a shooting at school can lead to anxiety and even aggression, no matter how old a child is. However, their ability to cope and process is absolutely affected by how old they are. 

Former Shelby County Schools board member Rev. Kenneth Whalum said school districts save money by creating K-8 schools, but they take away from the attention students need. 

"We close schools. We desert communities even if the school isn’t that old in that community," Whalum said. "I just think it’s unfortunate that we let finances drive educational decisions when they don’t really drive any other decisions when it comes to what it is we want." 

Le Bonheur Children's Hospital child trauma and mental health counselor Dr. Kiersten Hawes said students in K-8 schools have very different developmental stages. Shootings incidents will traumatize all students, but especially the younger ones. 

"Shootings leave not only physical injuries, but this traumatic experience is also just damaging to a child’s mental health because safety and security are always most important to our child’s healthy emotional development," Hawes said. 

Whalum said all students, including the shooter, are experiencing trauma. 

While he said there isn't a solution to the trauma, he added schools need to address the social and emotional growth of their students - and smaller classrooms would be an obvious start. 

 "I don’t think we’re serious about educating our children," Whalum said. "I don’t think we’re serious about addressing the needs of the poorest of our children."