"I am safe, responsible, respectful, and prepared."
This was "The Code" of educator Dawn Hochsprung when she was principal of Mitchell Elementary School in Woodbury, Connecticut.
It was a great code, but it didn't much impress my daughter or her friends when Hochsprung took the wheel five or six years ago. That was because the start of her leadership coincided with some policy ending the tenure of class pets. Anyone who would chase the guinea pigs and hamsters out of town would remain suspect among our crowd for a long time.
Eventually, though, kids saw The Code as a good thing. Ms. Hochsprung did a lot to shape up my daughter's school, and it was clear she cared about and deeply respected kids.
Ms. Hochsprung made sure the outline of an open hand with The Code on it was in every classroom. As a mnemonic device, kids had to say the code on their fingers: I am (out goes the pinky) safe (here comes the ring finger), responsible (the middle finger safely comes forward), respectful (the pointer), and prepared (the thumb). The result was an open hand, a high five, a salute character.
I remember when Ms. Hochsprung introduced The Code to parents at one of those interminable overheated evening open houses of PowerPoints and boxed cookies. She was as bright as early morning, and she remarked that "safe" came first because children cannot learn if they are not safe. Being responsible, respectful, and prepared come out of being safe.
When the news broke today that Ms. Hochsprung was killed after warning her school that a violent intruder was in the building, my daughter's classmates tweeted The Code in memory of Ms. Hochsprung. One young adult after another retweeted the message:
Good Lord willing--and with a little gun control--we'll be safe again.