WASHINGTON — The school year started off with a tragic shooting, but now officials at Perry Hall High School are hoping to end the year on a note of resilience thanks to a federal school violence recovery grant.
A student, Robert Wayne Gladden Jr., 15, shot and critically wounded another student on the first day of classes last August in the Baltimore County school’s cafeteria. Gladden was rushed by a school counselor and other staff, who were able to disarm him before anyone else was critically wounded, police said.
Gladden has since been sentenced to 35 years in prison, but the incident left students, parents and staff shaken and raised concerns for school safety.
Dale Rauenzahn, executive director for school safety and security for Baltimore County Public Schools, said the system was contacted by the Department of Education and encouraged to apply. The $35,000 grant, a Department of Education Project SERV or School Emergency Response to Violence, is awarded to help with recovery efforts through the next school year.
The funds will be used to boost training and counseling services for students and teachers, to support them in the aftermath of the shooting.
“After an incident like this, there’s a lot of anxiety and fear. It does go into the next school year, so the first day of school is going to be a tough day for some of the kids, parents and staff,” Rauenzahn said. “We want to make sure proper support is there to support them through the school year and get everyone back on track academically, socially and emotionally.”
Already the system has bolstered security measures. Around a dozen schools that still do not have buzzer entry security systems installed will be fully equipped by mid-April. The school system also plans on installing security cameras in all elementary schools by the coming fall.
The hope is to respond to what the school anticipates will be the needs of students in coming months, said Principal George Roberts. The anniversary of the shooting, he said, is a point of particular concern.
“The primary goal is to provide continued emotional and psychological support,” Roberts said. “Ultimately, we want the students to return the students back to the state of mind that they had prior to the shooting.”
In addition to the added counseling support made possible by the grant, additional safety measures have been and continue to be addressed in Baltimore County Public Schools.
The school system has always prioritized school safety and security, Rauenzahn said, and this has led to partnering with local police. Resource officers are posted in every county high school and all but a handful of middle schools. Detection wands have been also made available for resource officers to use, should they ever feel there is a threat to school safety.
“We hope to make sure students and staff are comfortable and feel that safety and security at Perry Hall High School has been enhanced,” Rauenzahn said. “In that they are comfortable coming to school every day.”