Last week, amidst a terrible tragedy, we were reminded that schools are places that fundamentally foster hope. We at Generation Citizen have grieved along with the rest of the nation, both shocked and saddened to live in a country in which shootings at schools have become all too commonplace. But even in a time of pain and loss, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Students have demonstrated a determined, unified spirit, and shown us all the vast potential of students.
We aspire for our schools to be places of curiosity, hope, joy, and learning. We aspire for our democracy to be responsive to the needs of all of its citizens, protecting certain unalienable rights of each individual. Both of these aspirations were shattered this past week, as they have been too often in the last few years.
We at Generation Citizen do not, as an organization, endorse any policy positions. That said, we are absolutely heartened and inspired by the response of the Parkland students to the shooting at their school. Our entire organization is predicated on the facts that people, including young people, often know the best solutions to the challenges they face every day and that it is vital to engage politically to drive lasting change in our communities.
The Parkland students are doing just that: thinking systemically, working collaboratively, engaging with the political process, and demanding action from their elected officials. While the circumstances could not be more dire, the students’ response is powerful and has reinforced for us our belief that young people can, and must, be at the forefront of the effort to strengthen our democracy in these trying times.
We know that in these situations the impossible is asked of teachers. They will be asked to help students process, cope, and make meaning from tragedy, all while staying on track with academic standards for the year and while grieving and coping themselves. But to our incredible GC teachers and to educators in your own midst, we offer a small number of actionable priorities on which they might focus in the days ahead:
Make each student feel welcomed and connected to school. An individual daily greeting, time for free-writing and partner sharing about one’s feelings, and a clear review of emergency procedures can reinforce for students that they are seen, cared for, and supported in their classrooms.
Allow students to learn and talk about the tragedy. The Learning Network has suggestions of several resources and activities to help students unpack how the event unfolded, honor the victims, contextualize the event within the broader context of mass school shootings, and explore students’ roles in narrating through social media and then responding to the attack.
Amplify the voices of the survivors and celebrate the exemplar they offer us of Action Civics in action. Use the remarkable example of how students have turned rage into activism to draw parallels between students’ own journeys to drive change in their communities with the goals, targets, and tactics of the Parkland students.
We don’t ever want students to experience such tragedy; but we cannot help but be inspired by students who are using their voices to bring attention to and mobilize resources for changing the situation, in their community and beyond.