By Rocketship Public Schools
This is not normal. This is not okay. We have an epidemic of mass shootings in our country that is a complete global anomaly. The school shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14th is yet another wake up call. Only a few months later, Parkland is starting to fade from the headlines.
But courageous students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and other schools are fighting to keep our attention. We all must follow their example. So instead of shying away from the topic with our students, we are addressing it head on. We all need to use the power of our voice and our vote to demand action. As educators, we have the unique responsibility of shaping our students to be the advocates, activists, and leaders of both today and tomorrow.
That’s why we asked our staff to share their reflections on gun violence and how they answer the hard questions our Rocketeers inevitably ask. Below are different reflections from across the Rocketship network.
Letters to the President
By Rebecca Ain, 5th Grade Teacher, Rocketship Mosaic Elementary
In the aftermath of Parkland, my fifth graders were asking a lot of questions. Safety is our number one concern at school and the threat of gun violence directly threatens that. So my co-teacher Ms. Hang and I knew we had to do something as a class to address gun violence.
The assignment was to write a letter to President Trump answering this question: What do you want President Trump to know about keeping our schools safe from gun violence? We kept the question open-ended so that students could go in whichever direction they chose. My co-teacher and I had the prompt written on a poster for students to reference, but what they wrote in their letters came entirely from each of them individually.
I felt strongly about having our students take part in this 17 Minutes Walk-Out action because I want our students to see themselves as people who matter with voices that matter. “Your voices matter” is a mantra that my co-teacher and I have emphasized throughout the year. Taking part in this nation-wide action alongside students across the country was an authentic, real-life moment in which our students could see that their voices matter. Our students had strong reactions to what happened in Florida, and most of them knew exactly what they wanted to say to President Trump. We simply gave them the platform and avenue through which to articulate those convictions.
I also care about our students seeing themselves as agents of change who can be part of a movement beyond our classroom walls. I want them to understand that what we learn in this classroom – not only about literature and math but also about advocacy and justice – is intended to ripple beyond the school doors and propel them through their lives equipped with knowledge and skills to make a positive difference about the issues that matter to them.
Here are a few of the letters they wrote:
The Things In My Classroom
By Nick Hunt, Associate Director of Family Recruitment and Growth
I kept many things in my classroom.
I kept pencils and child-sized scissors. I kept a pile of socks we used as whiteboard erasers and a box of granola bars for students who arrived hungry.
I kept Jolly Ranchers in my classroom.
I kept Jolly Ranchers in my classroom because I needed something to give my students to keep them quiet. They needed to be quiet, mouths occupied, if a gunman arrived on our campus and stood outside the door — barricaded with a bookcase I’d moved and locked in place — to determine if we were inside. My kindergarteners were aware of what we were doing, even if we called it “staying safe from the bad guys.” Even if they found the opportunity to flip tables and extinguish the lights adventurous and exciting and altogether different from anything else we ever did. Even if I knew that turning on a muted Netflix show (Curious George because you don’t need volume to follow the plot) and distributing candy was a hollow solution for a larger issue; a bandage in place of the tourniquet necessary to staunch the flow of violence that we continue to allow in our schools, movie theaters, and public spaces.
It wasn’t a kindergarten teacher with a gun that my class needed. It isn’t what they need now. Pay attention to the uproar in Florida, in DC, in cities and counties across the country. This matters now, possibly more than ever, because we’re hearing from the last round of kids who may experience school days unfettered from constant lockdown drills, metal detectors, or the ominous presence of armed guards. My students didn’t — and possibly won’t — know a world without the imminent threat of an intruder arriving on campus. They were required at age 5 to learn how to hide behind classroom furniture like barracks in a warzone. They learned how to do it before they learned how to read.
I kept a baseball bat in my classroom.
I kept a baseball bat in my classroom because I knew if it came down to it, I’d try to fight for my kids. But I also know, more than ever, that advocating for a shift in the way our nation so readily arms its citizens with unnecessarily violent machines is a far better protection. I urge everyone to find ways to defend common sense gun laws, participate in rallies, and make your voices heard.
Arming Students with Empathy
By Emilie Letourneau, Senior Associate, Schools Team
As the staunch protector and advocate for PBIS and SEL in our network, I 100% stand behind arming our teachers and students:
Arming them with the tools to learn and communicate effectively.
Arming them with strategies to solve problems and handle stress.
Arming them with values to live by: Empathy, Respect, Responsibility, and Persistence.
Arming them with social emotional skills to face the hundreds of tough choices they’ll have to make.
Above all else, I believe in arming them with the ONE thing that can’t and won’t ever be taken away from them: their knowledge. In the midst of this debate, we must remember that our voice and power to change comes in the form of the 8,000+ future professionals in purple shirts and khakis who step onto our campuses everyday.
Published on April 20, 2018
Read more stories about: Student Experience, Teacher Experience.