Saving Philadelphia’s children from gun violence takes a bigger village
Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic is a crisis. Five months into 2022, Philadelphia has already seen 165 fatal shootings (that’s more than one a day). At the national level, students are in trouble suffering from depression, trauma and other mental health issues. We also see this with our students, some of whom also deal with the stress of fearing for their lives.
To Belmont Rental Network, we know it takes a whole village to raise a child. But as educators, we need a bigger village. What happens in a community then ends up in a school, so we need everyone on deck to support our children.
Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, who recently dodged gunfire while attending an event in her district, said addressing the issue could include everything from policing to trauma support . “Or safe activities for young people for as many hours as possible during the day,” she said. told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Programs that provide stipends for young men not to shoot and that make it financially rewarding for people to break out of the cycle of violence.”
Many of our students are anxious about getting to and from school. Others go home and fear what lies outside their front door. Some of our students already know the difference between gunshots and fireworks. Many come to school with recurring trauma from the direct impact of gun violence on their lives and lockdowns that too often occur during the school day due to community violence.
At Belmont Charter Network schools, we strive to train and develop staff through a trauma-informed lens. We believe that true growth begins when you meet students where they are, and our programming reflects this: each of our schools offers an “Out-of-School-Time” (OST) enrichment program that offers a community-centered atmosphere aimed at giving students a comfortable place to go when the school day is over. Students who participate in school-sponsored extracurricular activities are less likely to be involved in community violenceso we try to give them as many choices as possible – play club, STEM, wrestling, basketball, track, dance, theater and cosmetology – so they can stay engaged in hobbies that speak to their passions.
Young Philadelphians need a quality education, strong after-school and neighborhood programs, and they need to feel safe. We must work harder than ever to build a village for students beyond the one we have created in our schools, a village that includes the help of other community members.
We also know that students who witness gun violence are more likely miss school, so we take it upon ourselves to remove barriers that keep students from getting to class in the morning. Belmont recently formed an Absenteeism Response Team because our priority is to build safe hallways to help students overcome these obstacles. In the classroom, we incorporate social and emotional learning into regular lesson plans.
We conducted extensive community outreach to parents, caregivers, students, community members, anti-violence nonprofit organizations and local law enforcement officials. Through open conversations, regular morning meetings between staff and students when they arrive at school, and ongoing town halls hosted by our staff, we use the tools at our disposal to gauge student emotion and build trust.
We learned from our conversations with students that schools need to combine community safety and public engagement to help students feel heard and supported. We cannot watch this crisis unfold without an appropriate response. We must play our part as a school to forge meaningful relationships with local law enforcement. Schools and law enforcement need to empathize to better understand how to rely on each other as partners. Our students and our families ask us this, and we must respond.
Young Philadelphians need a quality education, strong after-school and neighborhood programs, and they need to feel safe. We must work harder than ever to build a village for students beyond the one we have created in our schools, a village that includes the help of other community members. It is not enough for the school to work to create a safe learning environment inside the school.
We need support from the local community, such as local businesses who can see what is happening in the community and provide protection for our students. We need every neighbor to commit to reporting dangerous activities. We need local authorities to champion and support legislation that protects our community.
Please join us.
Christine Gullotti is the College Director of Belmont Charter Network. Dante Banks is Deputy Director of Attendance and Absenteeism for Belmont Charter Network.
Citizen welcomes guest comments from community members who state to the best of their ability that they are fact-based and not defamatory.
THE CITIZEN PODCAST ON GUN VIOLENCE IN PHILADELPHIA
Philly Under Fire Episode 1: “Roadmap to Nowhere”
Philly Under Fire Episode 2: The Other Epidemic
Philly Under Fire Episode 3: “Get in Front of the Beef”
Philly Under Fire Episode 4: “A New 24”
Philly Under Fire Episode 5: “Killadelphia”
Philly Under Fire Episode 6: The Golden Hour
Philly Under Fire Episode 7: Detective Mode
Primary school children in class. Photo by CDC on Unsplash