On September 20th, 2018, a shooting took place across the street from CHAMPS Performing Arts School in Van Nuys, California. The shooting took place during lunch time, when students and faculty were sitting and walking outside from building to building. One student’s leg was hurt, a teacher’s arm was injured, and the rest of the school went on lockdown.
So, when our team visited CHAMPS on January 15th, students were eager to have conversations about their school. The first topic they brought up: school safety.
When asked what they did not like about their school, 12th grader Maya stated that “I think a lot of the time there’s a lot of inaction, especially with the administration. We have a gun violence incident earlier in the year, and we feel like the administration hasn’t done much to prevent that in the future.”
One student, Karolina, shared that she decided to write a piece for her journalism class about gun violence, in the wake the of the September shooting. When she interviewed the administrators about safety protocols, she discovered the school safety protocols and “there was a lot of stuff in it that I didn’t even know existed”.
CHAMPS has a non traditional campus layout due to its urban location. Students love the unique campus as it allows them to spend time outside each day and adds to the culture of this non-traditional school. However, as Maya noted, “because our campus is unique, we need to compensate for that and I feel like that’s not being done. That was especially brought to [the administration] after everything that happened, not only in Parkland, but the shooting that happened here. I feel like that needs work because we have security guards, but it’s very easy to access our campus. We’ve had people walk through it who don’t belong to the school.”
For students at CHAMPS, like so many around the United States, school shootings are a constant fear. They were just babies when students were killed by their classmate at Columbine High School. They were in preschool when six professors and twenty-six students were murdered at Virginia Tech by a student. They were in fifth and sixth grade when six teachers and twenty students were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. They became aware that a shooting could happen anywhere as they watched seventeen of their peers be killed in Parkland, Florida almost a year ago. And on September 20th, 2018, merely seven months after Parkland, it was their school that made national news for a student and a teacher being shot near campus.
During roundtables and a workshop with three Student Voice Team Members, students expressed their fear and frustration around the issue of school safety. But, through these conversations, they also brainstormed solutions to address their frustrations, ranging from student testimonies at board meetings, student input on safety plans, and meetings between students and administration to build relationships.
As the last roundtable of the day came to a close and students debriefed what they learned, one student, Sarah, shared that they often hear “the excuse that financial reasons are why we don’t have a lot of things, but I honestly feel like a lot fo the issues we’ve talked about today are free, it’s just effort”. By having time and space dedicated to discussion and thinking constructively about school, CHAMPS students realized that they don’t need to wait for the adults to solve problems, they have the ability to take action themselves.
“I would add giving students more of an opportunity to go to meetings and talk about the things they are seeing, rather than just having the board decide what the school needs. We’re the ones who are going to the school and going to classes 7 hours a day. We’re the ones who are the key stakeholders, so I want us to have more of an opportunity go to to meetings and discuss what goes on in school and how we can change it” -Lindsey