Two Michigan educators watched in amazement last weekend as 100 students from across the country – including two from their school districts – hammered out a Student Bill of Rights for Safer Communities in Washington, D.C.
Grand Rapids math teacher Wendy Winston and Livonia art teacher Heidi Posh each accompanied one student to the Student Gun Violence Summit and acted as educator-advisors to the young activists assembled to address the issue.
“The summit was an incredibly powerful experience—terribly sad but uplifting at the same time,” said Posh, a 21-year veteran art teacher at Livonia’s Stevenson High School. “I am confident that positive steps were taken toward safer spaces for our young people.”
The 14-point bill of rights hammered out by the youth participants last Saturday and Sunday includes as many recommendations for mental health and other supports as for sensible gun control laws. Among other changes, the students want more counselors and mental health programming, in addition to universal background checks for gun purchases and an assault weapons ban.
“One thing that struck me was that gun violence does not discriminate,” Posh said. “The one common thread and one of the biggest concerns of the students was the dire need for increased availability of mental health assistance.”
The summit was organized into panel discussions and smaller break-out sessions. The first discussion was led by gun violence survivors, including an educator from Newtown, Connecticut, and a student from Parkland, Florida.
Winston said she was grateful to attend such an important event and proud to be a member of NEA, which helped to lift young people’s voices by co-sponsoring the event. Mostly she was impressed by the young people’s focus and tenacity.
“The educators watched students debate different issues and discuss the best way to phrase their ideas,” said Winston, a teacher at Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy. “We watched them compromise. Several adults contrasted the high productivity of the student summit to the lack of productivity of Congress and our government.”
Winston said she was especially thankful to bring a sophomore from her school, Chanel Hill, to participate. “Chanel saw all of these students taking charge of their future and working together to change the way things are.”
Natalie Koelzer is a Stevenson High School junior who accompanied Posh. “I have never witnessed a group of adults accomplish such a monumental task in such a short time,” Posh said.
The summit was hosted by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, Guns Down, Students for Change, Everytown for Gun Safety, Students Demand Action, Giffords, and the Brady Campaign.