Back in 1999, I was in a graduate class on criminal justice when the Columbine shooting occurred a few miles from my home. As a former victim advocate for the Boulder Police Department, I went to the scene to see if I could offer assistance. I worked late into the night, bringing food and offering support to families who were still waiting for their child to walk out of the school alive. Not one of the families received that wish.
Responding to the Parkland shooting
Eighteen years later, I was teaching criminal justice to high school students when the latest shooting occurred. I looked into the eyes of my students and saw the fear and unanswered questions about a world in which they cannot go to a theater, concert, church, or school without worrying that someone with a gun will want to take their life because that person can’t cope with life.
As a teacher, these conversations become more difficult with each shooting. I’ve realized that I can’t promise them it won’t happen to them. And I don’t have the answers they seek.
My students wanted to do something, but what?
They talked about participating in the walkouts (currently scheduled for March 14th and April 20th), but they wanted to do something more. The previous week we had studied how students are recruited into extremist groups, and they realized that school shooters exhibit many of the same characteristics, including being disenfranchised from their peers.
My students realized that social media bullying is prevalent and that it is so easy to say something you wouldn’t say in person. And thus, their “walk in” movement was born—Positive Ways 17 Days.
What is Positive Ways 17 Days?
My students hope to honor the 17 students who lost their lives in Florida by asking others to refrain from bullying and negativity for 17 days and instead promote positivity. Our hope is the movement does not stop with 17 days but encourages students to dig deeper into the social issues facing their peers and embrace those who are struggling. The idea is that together, we can encourage others to “walk in” and do something positive.
So far, my students have created a website, ordered wristbands and cards, and started social media campaigns on Instagram and Twitter. They are also planning a professional development course for teachers, with speakers from the FBI, the attorney general’s office, specialists trained to look for the warning signs that a school shooting might occur, and experts who specifically work with youth.
I am so proud of my students and can’t wait to see where this campaign takes them!
We’d love to know—how are your students responding to the Parkland shooting? Will they be participating in the walkout or doing something else? Come and share your experiences in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
P.S. You might also be interested in “As a Teacher, Should I Support the National School Walkout?”