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St. Louis students brainstorm solutions as shootings involving children increase

From left, Makayla Mack, a 17-year-old from Soldan High School, Tranell Darden, a 15-year-old from Grand Center Arts Academy, Israel Lanos, a 16-year-old from Grand Center Arts Academy and Zacchaeus Williams, an 18-year-old from Sumner High School on Thursday, May 25, 2023, outside the Sun Theater in Grand Center, St. Louis, MO.
Lilley Halloran
St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Makayla Mack, a 17-year-old from Soldan High School; Tranell Darden, a 15-year-old from Grand Center Arts Academy; Israel Lanos, a 16-year-old from Grand Center Arts Academy, and Zacchaeus Williams, an 18-year-old from Sumner High School on Thursday outside the Sun Theater in Grand Center in St. Louis.

Eight students from St. Louis Public Schools and Confluence Academies took the stage at Sun Theater on Thursday afternoon to participate in a roundtable discussion about gun safety efforts.

After a rise in gun incidents involving children and a school shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in October, educators said they want to provide a space for student advocacy.

This is the next step for Educators for Gun Safety, an initiative by leaders from SLPS and Confluence Academy charter schools launched last May to address the gun violence crisis in St. Louis. Last year, EGS provided gun safety education and more than 250 free gun locks to students and families in St. Louis.

But EGS leaders said they recognized their limitations. “If we really want to get to the root of solutions and the root of the problem, we’re going to have to involve students in that process,” said Candice Carter-Oliver, CEO of Confluence Academies.

According to a statement by EGS, 120 children were shot in metropolitan St. Louis last year, and 26 died. Carter-Oliver said student input is important because incidents of gun violence have inevitable impacts on children.

Linda Francis, a rising senior at Roosevelt High School, knew three people who were victims of gun violence during the last school year. One of them was her sister. She spoke after the roundtable about the importance of leaving space for students to grieve after gun violence. “I want to go to college. I want to be something. And me not being able to complete my work because I’m dealing with the fact that I almost had to lose my sister was one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” she said.

Some students at the roundtable recognized that talking about tragic events can be uncomfortable for educators. But they maintained that having those conversations is an important step in addressing gun violence’s impact on schools. “I think that, like, that avoidance is part of what harms the community,” said Ella Montague, a rising senior at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which shares a campus with CVPA, where the shooting took place last year.

At the roundtable, students brainstormed ways to create more informed school-communities. Israel Lanos, a rising junior at Grand Center Arts Academy, said schools should require gun safety curriculums, similar to the way that health class is mandatory. Others wanted to start clubs promoting gun safety and hold panels for students about gun violence.

For students and educators alike, the summer is a time of great concern. “School is out. This is when it’s beyond the most challenging time, idle time,” said Toni Cousins, president of St. Louis Public Schools Board of Education.

The participants asked EGS to host events keeping students active over the summer, such as sports, concerts and clubs.

A priority for the students was teaching their peers about the dangers of guns.

“One of the problems with our generation now is … we feel like guns are necessary,” said Zacchaeus Williams, a rising senior at Sumner High School.

Williams said he doesn’t believe this mindset will go away because of St. Louis communities’ ongoing crime. His solution was to teach students that guns aren’t toys.

“It could be a toddler just standing on the corner, and [a gun] just took their life because one person made a bad decision not to be safe with their gun,” he said. “If you don’t learn [that], there’s no moving forward.”

Williams and other students at the roundtable said they were thankful for the opportunity to share their ideas and hopeful that community leaders will follow up with action.

“With this platform, we got the opportunity to actually talk and be heard by the adults who, you know, actually put a plan together so that we can move forward,” said Williams.

Lilley Halloran was a Summer '23 News Intern at St. Louis Public Radio. She is studying Journalism and Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri.