Pewaukee School History: Violence

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Wednesday, December 3, 2019, was unlike any other day. Kids poured in the doors, laughter filled the halls, the school was filled with sleep deprived students and exhausted teachers yet to drink their morning coffee. But, something was out of place. Police officers were everywhere. In the halls, classrooms, and entrances, their cars were parked on the grass, a glaring reminder of the eight recent outbreaks of violence in Wisconsin schools. Pewaukee School District has seemed like a safe haven in these past few weeks but it has had its fair share of violence as well.

Nina Donovan
On the left is Pewaukee Highschool plan to build a new building that would accommodate more students. Pictured on the right is the current-day building.

Beth Youngeagle and Laura Bengs shared their concerns when the High School was evacuated in 2017 after threats were posted in a bathroom “At the time, I was a special ed teacher and my students were extremely scared,”  Youngeagle said. Students flooded out of high school, unsure where to go. “…students were asking what’s going on? Why are we doing this?” Bengs said, “And I didn’t have any answers. I said, I’m experiencing this just like you are, but we need to listen to directions and I’m sure we’ll find out.” 

The entire high school congregated in Pewaukee Lake Elementary’s gym when the previous principal, Marty VanHulle addressed the crowd.  “He was a calming individual in this building,” Youngeagle said. The students were released from the gym and sent home on buses without personal belongings, while teachers were escorted back into the building to retrieve their car keys.

Another threat like this one shut the school down the day before homecoming, canceling homecoming festivities. VanHulle says they investigated but still felt uncomfortable and, to be safe, canceled school. “So that was always a day that was really active and, and energizing around here.” said VanHulle, “And it was really kind of creepy because there was nobody here there was myself and a few administrators because we were still trying to get down to the bottom of what had happened.”

While school was shut down, students and teachers were at home, having an unscheduled day off. “I actually went to breakfast with my daughter, because normally I wouldn’t be able to do that during the week.” Youngeagle said. “And people are saying, aren’t you excited to have the day off? I said, No, I’m really sad to have off for this reason.”

Both teachers and principal attest to observing rattled students the days and weeks after both incidents “…it was challenging to come back and get your footing again and get traction on what you were working on before.” said Bengs.

He believes that this harrowing incident had some positivity. “…it did make us refocus on connecting with students and being in the moment when you’re with them.” Bengs said, “And kind of focusing on what matters as well as the stuff we’re trying to get done. So it’s not a horrible shift, but it did impact what we’re doing.

Regardless of the situation, they all believe Pewaukee is a safe place. “I think it’s about as safe as you could ask a high school to be,” VanHulle said.