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Written by Sylvia Denice
This is my sister Ellie. At fifteen years old, Ellie’s time is consumed mostly by school, swimming, and socializing. She’s an enthusiastic learner, listener, observer, and friend with a cheery disposition. Ellie has goals and dreams of her future, going to college to study Education or Journalism--no denying that relation! On February 14, 2018, Ellie determined, as an Indiana high school sophomore, it was time she assumed a new role: activist.
On that tragic February day, Ellie learned of Florida high schoolers killed in innocence as they exercised their right to be educated. She heard of the terror of a student with a gun opening fire on his school community. She has since learned the stories of sixteen-year-olds not unlike herself whose goals and dreams of the future were abruptly swept from under them at the place where dreams are meant to be actualized: school.
On February 24, ten days after the Florida massacre, I received this message from Ellie: “I was wondering if you could tell me what you think about the gun law so that I can get the view of a teacher of young kids for my letter.” This was the first I had heard of Ellie’s “letter,” and I, of course, was eager to respond to an issue striking me on a personal level as both a teacher and a sister who cares deeply about a fifteen-year-old girl. I responded, “Sure.” She followed with, “Do you want a gun in your classroom?”
My mind immediately when to the plea of Andrew Pollack, father of 18-year-old Meadow Pollack who was killed in the Florida school shooting. The mourning father pleaded we put aside talk of gun laws and focus on action around school safety and security. “We need to come together as a country and work on what’s important, and that’s protecting our children in the schools,” Pollack cries. I shared this sentiment with Ellie: our kids are so important.
Measures should absolutely be taken to ensure safety in our schools. In his appeal, Andrew Pollack emphasizes, “We go to the airport, I can’t get on a plane with a bottled water… 9/11 happened once, and they fixed everything.” Drawing from other instances of shootings in the United States, Pollack adds, “we protect airports, we protect concerts, stadiums, embassies, [and] the Department of Education.” He begs the question: “How many schools, how many children, have to get shot?”
In response to Ellie’s question, I will be the first to tell you: as a fourth-grade teacher, I have no business keeping a gun at school. The answer to gun violence is not more guns, and the presence of a gun in my classroom with young children would cause me great discomfort. I shudder at the thought of back-to-school staff developments including sessions on how and when to operate your government-funded teacher gun.
As a teacher, I am in need of ammunition; but, don’t arm me with a gun. Arm me with an army. An army of compassion, of people relentlessly loving and caring for our nation’s youth. An army of advocates, listeners, learners, and teachers for our children. Don’t buy me a class set of laptops or the latest SmartBoard technology or a teacher appreciation taco bar luncheon; and certainly, do not buy me a gun. Instead, put money, time, and energy into people. Invest in people to honor and protect, as Andrew Pollack reminds us, “our commodities”--our children. Arm me with more people to hear our students and to keep them safe.
Today, my fifteen-year-old sister cries out to her government, demanding assurance of safety for herself and her peers in their places of learning. Teachers having guns in schools, Ellie states, “would make the student environment unsafe. There are too many risks of having a gun in the classroom.” When asked her suggestions to bring safety to our schools, Ellie replied, “I think we need more awareness of our surroundings. With the Florida shooting, the murderer had many posts with guns on Instagram and Snapchat stories. This should have been a red flag to so many people who saw it as a joke. It isn’t a joke when someone’s life is actually endangered or even lost.”
Ellie said she felt called to action when she saw someone in her Publications class looking upset. “I asked her what was wrong. She told me a close friend of hers had a cousin who was shot and killed in the shooting. I cannot even imagine the pain that family must be going through. It shouldn’t happen to anyone.” She has confidence in the importance of the nation’s youth stepping forward and demanding change.
This Wednesday, March 14th, one month after the Florida Massacre, students across the nation are calling for a “walk out” to advocate for safety in schools through safer gun laws. Starting at 10:00 a.m., the National School Walkout will last for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 fatalities of the Florida High School Shooting. “It’s our right, to protest, but schools are disciplining students for that,” Ellie shared. At her high school in northeast Indiana, students have been advised that participation in the walkout will result in a school administered consequence. “I know that my school is not tolerating any protests… but if a student’s parents say it’s okay, then I think they should go for it,” Ellie expressed. School districts across Indiana have showed varied levels of involvement in support of the National School Walkout on March 14th. Ellie insists that “young voices matter. It’s our generation that will stop this.”