The principal of Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco has applied for a grant to hire a grief counselor, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The school has 520 students, and so many of them have been affected by violence, either against family members, friends or just eruptions of gunfire near their homes, that Principal Jim Dierke said just making it to school is a victory for them.
There are other needs besides counseling, of course. More than 80 percent of the students at Visitacion Valley live at or below the poverty level, and almost everyone qualifies for a free lunch. Because of budget problems, the school no longer offers art or basic music classes. A librarian hangs on to a half-time position.
Visitacion Valley, in the southeast corner of San Francisco, is home to one of the most troubled public-housing complexes in the city and to many working families struggling to make ends meet. The five-block area around the school generates one of the city’s highest volumes of emergency police calls – – an average of about 81 each month.
Most of the school’s students live in this area, including many in the Sunnydale housing project. A smaller number come from nearby Hunters Point and the Bayview. After a series of shootings in the Bayview district that claimed the lives of eight young people, Dierke became convinced the school needed more counseling help.
In January he asked students to practice for a standardized test by writing an essay on safety. The students overwhelmingly told him that they felt safe at school but feared violence outside.