All my life, I have been aware of the impact that violence – and especially gun violence – has on children, families and communities. Young men who I got to know in pickup basketball games in Chicago – just kids, as I was myself back then – were buried far, far before their time, killed in moments of senseless stupidity.
Early on a recent morning, I visited Hart Middle School in the Anacostia neighborhood of DC, literally on the way from home to my office. I simply asked the students to tell me their experiences, and they bravely and honestly did – even with a video camera in the room. They talked about the family members they have lost – every single one of them knows someone who has been shot. They talked about their fears that an unspeakable tragedy like Newtown could happen at their own school, and their doubts they would survive to live a full lifetime. And they talked about the senselessness of the violence—people getting shot over a pair of shoes.
These are kids who deserve the best. They’re trying to do all the right things, and they deserve more than we adults have done for them. It’s our job to create a climate where they can grow and learn free from fear, and as you will hear, we are far from succeeding at our task. We need to do better.
It’s impossible to witness the conversation without being moved. I hope you’ll watch, and think about what it means for our communities. We have posted an 4 minute excerpt along with the full video of the hour-long conversation. Please watch.
Secretary Duncan talks with students about school safety as part of his ongoing Student Voices Series. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.
The fight to end the school-to-jail track and reestablish restorative justice practices is personal for Jasmine Jauregui, a youth organizer from the Youth Justice Coalition.
“I have a family with a history of incarceration. My father is serving a life sentence at the moment and I don’t feel comfortable around [school resource] officers.”
Jauregui is just one of a number of students who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and David Esquith, director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), at the Department of Education to discuss school safety. The students, who work to break down silos and make their schools and communities safer, represented coalition members of the Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ), the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) and Padres y Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United).
One day before the students met with Secretary Duncan, they participated in a rally on Capitol Hill calling on Congress to implement positive approaches in response to gun violence and address the impact of school safety policies.
Secretary Duncan applauded the students’ efforts to make their voices heard to lawmakers and was interested in hearing some of the alternative recommendations they’ve developed.
“Rather than promote more school resources officers (SROs) in schools, we want school administrators to promote positive measures such as positive behavior intervention and restorative justice,” said Yuki Diaz, a youth organizer of Padres y Jovenes Unidos via video teleconference.
Other students agreed, saying that they felt their schools needed an increased presence in guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists.
Secretary Duncan said that he believes each school is unique and should have the flexibility to choose school resource officers or social workers and counselors in order to prevent violence.
Padres y Jovenes Uniodos recently reached a historic partnership with the Denver’s police department and school district that limits the role of police in schools. The organization is hoping that their interagency agreement will be used as a model for other urban schools confronted with alarming rates of misconduct and violence.
The Department of Education has already provided technical aid to help nearly 18,000 schools implement evidence-based strategies to improve school climate. “One of the things that the President is proposing is a new $50 million initiative to scale up positive behavioral interventions and supports,” said David Esquith.
Other youth activists such as Nicole Cheatom of the Baltimore Algebra Project said that it shouldn’t have taken the tragedy at Sandy Hook to build momentum on school and community safety. She cited that a school shooting occurred last year at Perry Hall high school in Baltimore, and that it didn’t receive national attention.
Earlier this month, ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students awarded more than $35,000 to the Baltimore, County, Md., high school. The Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) grant will assist with ongoing recovery efforts.
Christina Cathey, a youth activist and college student at Tugaloo College said that she hopes the Department continues to support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment and push out in schools. She said that ED’s leadership can serve as a catalyst at the local-level.
Click here to read the President Obama’s plan to make our schools safer.
Click here to read the students’ joint issue briefing.
De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach
As a teacher and a parent, what our nation’s education leaders think, really matters to me. And with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about to begin a second term, it matters even more.
Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of a new #AskArne video interview series, where the Secretary addresses the hot topics and burning questions in education today. In light of the President’s announcement to address gun violence, the first episode, titled “Free from Fear,” focuses on gun violence, school safety, and out of school factors influencing student achievement.
For the #AskArne videos, the questions for the Secretary will be derived from feedback the Department receives via social media and through the outreach of EDs Teaching Ambassador Fellows.
The Fellows, who work for the Department for a year, play a key role in connecting with educators and other stakeholders around the country, and then connecting voices from the field with top federal policymakers, including Secretary Duncan. As an explanation, this year I am on sabbatical from teaching at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C. to work full-time at ED as part of this year’s team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows.
I hope you find this clip from our first interview informative and interesting, and with your feedback, we’re looking forward to future installments that will address the Department’s 2013 agenda and the topics that are on the minds of teachers, parents, students and stakeholders.
Submit your ideas and questions for future #AskArne episodes on Twitter, on Arne’s Facebook page or in the comments below.
Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.
Also, the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship is now accepting applications for its 2013-2014 cohort. More information can be found here.