The students in Ms. Seitz’s 6th grade class began the year building a sense of community in their classroom. They wrote poems about themselves and shared the history of their names. They even participated in a community peace rally. The school community faces a number of challenges and the students took time to consider and debate which of the issues they wanted to learn about more deeply and focus on for the service-learning project. Ultimately, the topic of gun violence emerged as the most pressing issue.
“Why do people continue to hurt and kill others with guns?” This question drove so much of their research and deep concern. They wanted to consider the impact of gun violence on families and even on the organizations they would partner with. The students recognized early on that working in the field of violence prevention would be a huge challenge.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic closed their school for the year, the class hosted visits from Scott Charles and Max Milkman. Scott Charles’ work at Cradle to Grave provided insight into what really happens to a person who is victim of gun violence–in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and the ongoing recovery. Families are changed forever. Max Milkman shared how Ceasefire PA strives to center community safety in advocating for legislative changes in Pennsylvania gun laws. It seemed exciting to consider that they could use their own voice and passion to speak to community leaders and advocate for change. Just as they were ready to reflect on all that they had learned and design a service project, schools were suddenly closed and everyone worked hard to figure out how to teach and learn remotely. Even in the face of these challenges, Ms. Seitz understood that service-learning didn’t need to end with in-person instruction.
The partnership withCeasefire PA became the catalyst for a culminating project. Like so many other things in the spring of 2020, advocacy was going online. The students were excited to participate in an online event: Wear Orange for Gun Safety Digital Rally. This forum gave students a chance to share poems and speeches they had written helping others understand the negative impact of gun violence. Senator Bob Casey and other elected officials attended the rally. And student felt heard and celebrated.
Qariah shared “Please remember you have the power to change things.”
Ingris shared “Please remember gun violence destroys families.”
In the end, the project was an opportunity for students to share and connect around their own stories–to know they are not alone and, in working together, could be part of the process of change. The Covid-19 crisis may have ended in-person teaching and learning. But gun violence remains a pervasive issue that cannot be ignored. We are proud that these students kept up their commitment to speaking up and bringing their voices to advocate for a safer Philadelphia for all of us.