In the U.S. we hear about school shootings, threats, bullying, and lockdowns almost on a weekly basis, it seems. The problems occur not only in high schools, but also elementary schools, middle schools, and universities. Three of the most well-known cases are the December, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the April, 2007, shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institutes and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia, and the April, 1999, shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
According to a survey of students aged 12-18 conducted by the CDC in 2011, 5.4 percent of students reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife, club) to school on one or more days during the 30 days before the survey. If that’s not scary enough, in 2009, 7 percent of teachers reported that they have been threatened with injury or physically attacked by a student from their school. Between 20 and 37 percent of students reported that gangs were present in their schools, and 19 percent of public schools reported 20 or more number of violent incidents which could be classified as severe violence, including rape or attempted rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat with a weapon, etc. in 2009-2010.
When I began working on my novel, Chameleon, I researched school violence because I wanted to show what school administrators, teachers, and our children must deal with in school. I chose Colorado as the setting for several reasons: the Columbine shooting, the 110 gangs and 12,741 gang members that plague the Denver metro area, and because I used to live in the area and was familiar with it.
In Chameleon the protagonist is a genius professor who is in witness protection. A gaffe thrusts her into the role of principal of a troubled high school, where she must face her inexperience in leadership and her qualms about deceiving people. Complicating her problems, she discovers that someone who may want her dead is ‘watching’ her and her young son and the agent in charge of her case won’t help her. This complicated woman, Claire Constantine, struggles internally with morals and externally with juvenile delinquents, hostile employees, and criminals who don’t want her to testify in court. She must work to control the school violence, while dealing with political games and her own problems as a government witness.
I don’t expect to solve any problems with my book, but I hope it will give some insight to our school system and entertain the reader at the same time.
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