Timely, Teachable Moments

Timely, Teachable Moments
Posted on 03/09/2018
Image of Case Students Discussing Walkout Day Plans(courtesy Brian Lisik and akron.com/West Side Leader)

What began as a Case Elementary School assignment contrasting students’ reaction to recent school shooting events to the 1963 student-led Birmingham Children’s Crusade Civil Rights march led to a March 5 meeting between fourth- and fifth-graders and Akron Public Schools Board of Education members.

“The students wanted more information and took [the assignment further],” said Case Intervention Specialist Craig Sampsell. “They wanted to see what they could do to participate in the planned March 14 student walkout.”

The March 14 National School Walkout is an outgrowth of larger “March For Our Lives” rallies scheduled to kick off March 24 across the country in response to gun violence, particularly school-related shootings.

By and large, however, these events are being staged by adults and high school students. At the March 5 Case Elementary meeting, fifth-graders Maeva Lyle, Bella Wesley and Anas Farrag proposed their March 14 walkout day plan to board members Ginger Baylor, Lisa Mansfield and the Rev. Curtis Walker.

The students plan to make posters with the names of the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to be displayed inside the school and along West Market Street in front of the temporary Case Elementary building at 400 W. Market St., as well as release balloons in honor of the 17 people killed.

“We wanted to protest against all the gun shooters anywhere in the world,” Wesley said. “Nobody here wants that.”

The school board members each commended the students for personalizing the classroom assignment, noting they are within their First Amendment rights to stage such a peaceful protest.

“Young people have the right to demonstrate and highlight the things you believe in,” Walker said. “Sometimes you can do more than we can. As children, people will listen to and support you. Basically, you are speaking for us.”

Following the presentation of walkout day plans, fifth-graders Danae Boon, Alex Tyler, Maurice Smith and Cyrus Booker presented questions to the board members on issues including daily backpack checks, increased police and school resource officer training, metal detectors, arming teachers and staff members, and more detailed emergency escape plans for students.

Throughout the meeting, the board members addressed the students’ concerns and assured them they are safe at school.

“You are safer at school now than you have ever been. When I was in school, every door was open,” said Mansfield, noting she is the daughter of a police officer with numerous family members in law enforcement and the military. “Now we have school resource officers who are not just there to watch the door but for you to talk to if you have a question or see something [suspicious].”

Baylor addressed the issue of arming staff members directly.

“Sadly, some districts have started this,” she said. “I don’t think that is something we would ever do in Akron Public Schools.”

Baylor said she was also impressed with ideas such as enhanced drills with a testing component to ensure students and staff react appropriately during an emergency. She encouraged the students to take the initiative to help create such plans.

When the question of how students should deal with issues of sadness and depression was posed, Baylor seemed visibly moved and insisted that in those instances, students should not remain silent.

“I think our school health professionals can better speak to this, but it is important that you talk to someone,” Baylor said.

Throughout the meeting, the board members stressed that school should remain a place for learning and students should not be unnecessarily fearful in the wake of episodes like the Parkland shooting.

Fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Essex emphasized that the students “led the discussions” and kept the focus “age appropriate.” She acknowledged, however, that teachers are cognizant that an overly fearful school environment must not be promulgated.

“No. 1, we don’t want to support fear,” Essex said. “We want to counter that with knowledge and knowing how to control yourself in any situation.”

Image of Case Students Discussing Walkout Day Plans
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