Earlier this month, the principal of Chicago Public Schools’ Montessori School of Englewood Charter canceled outdoor recess. There was a shooting early in the day in the neighborhood, and as a cautionary measure, recess was inside.
It wasn’t unusual for the students or their teachers.
“There are days when we can’t come outside and enjoy a day like today because we hear gunshots,” said Maria Barksdale, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at the school.
There’s good reason for caution when it comes to gun violence breaking out around schools: In the past five years, 11 Chicago schools have been hit by gunshots, though no one was injured in those incidents, a recent Chicago Sun-Times investigation found. Last year, two teens and an 18-year-old man were charged with shooting two girls at an end-of-year school picnic at Warren Elementary School in the Calumet Heights neighborhood on the South Side.
But this past Wednesday, May 16, the students at the Montessori school staged a show of force. They stepped out as part of the “291 Sidewalk Challenge” and wrote the names of the 291 schools that have suffered gun violence since the mass school shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
After they did so, another name would need to be added to the list: Santa Fe High School near Houston, where multiple fatalities from a mass shooting were reported on Friday.
“It was important that our kids have a chance to also be activists, not always be treated as a victim” the school’s principal, Rita Nolan said. “And they knew Sandy Hook, they knew Parkland, we didn’t prep the kids in any way. They’re very aware and show empathy.”
The students got all the names down in chalk, but they couldn’t complete in one day the task of covering them in red paint, which Barksdale said speaks “volumes.”
Barksdale said it’s important for students, who regularly feel the impact of gun violence, to see themselves as more than hopeless victims but to also be activists.
The art project was part of an ongoing “Schools Say Enough” initiative by GCE Laboratory School. It asks communities to write names of the schools that have been impacted by gun violence since 2012 using supplies like chalk, fabric, paper and yarn.
“I think our kids enjoyed it, they like to see that they can make change in the world,” Debbie Kelley, elementary director at the school said.
In April, students involved with GCE Lab, a North Side private high school, created displays of public protest at Chicago’s Washington Square Park but were later removed after a pro-gun group petitioned to create a counter demonstration. The initiative has moved to other locations such as schools and parks, according to a GCE petition.
The installation comes amid a separate gun-violence awareness effort by the Sun-Times called 31 bullets. As part of the campaign, the newspaper is highlighting 31 actions that everyday citizens can take to combat gun violence.