April 5, 2023
We are mad. We are frustrated. We are grieving.
Yet again, schools in our community and throughout the country have been devastated by gun violence. The fractured dreams and potential of young people in schools have been replaced by stress, fear, and angst. Debates and arguments are continuing as we struggle to determine what is the best strategy is to implement to address gun violence in our schools and the lack of clear action has left students, educators and parents feeling helpless and even hopeless. Unfortunately, there is no single best strategy. Violence this pervasive requires all the strategies we can muster implemented through a well-coordinated and well-resourced approach.
According to state statistics, Denver has one of the highest rates of juvenile crime arrests, juvenile crime involving firearms, and juvenile death from violence, especially those involving guns. The state of Colorado has seen gun deaths increase 41% from 2011 to 2020, compared to a 33% increase nationwide.
The devastating impact of gun violence in our schools has become normalized terrorism and we need to come together to find comprehensive solutions to put a stop to this phenomenon and put students first. Organizations like Denver Public Schools Foundation put Students First and this requires us to bridge different sectors to bring together the necessary programs and activities that ensure student safety, well-being and success. We partner with philanthropy and corporate sector to leverage and maximize private resources. And we collaborate with public agencies to help coordinate programs and services geared toward young people in schools.
In doing this, we believe that curbing gun violence that is heavily impacting young people in our community requires a six-point strategy:
- Responsive legislation: Sensible laws help curb gun violence by restricting youth access to guns, having wait periods and red flag mechanisms, having mandatory trainings and licensing, and requiring safe and secure gun storage. In collaboration with the gun industry and responsible gun owners, we can develop legislation that preserves the second amendment but also protects innocent lives.
- Coordinated school district efforts: There are sound and effective programs that already exist, like DPS’s Black Excellence Plan and Community Hubs, within Denver Public Schools that need to be coordinated, resourced and scaled. We need to have programs that expand options for students to establish lifelong goals and the feasible avenue that enable them to stick with those goals such as Career and College Success to other non-traditional pathways to high school graduation. Additionally, safety and security need to be invested and implemented in coordination with experts, the school district, city agencies like the Denver Police Department and neighborhood organizations.
- Accessible community-based programs: Young people need to be more connected to positive options which Denver has a rich capacity to provide. Kids need increased exposure to sports, the arts, quality afterschool activities, counseling, mentoring, coaching and increased access to positive role models through church-based programs, nonprofit organizations, and partnerships with private sector entities. We need these programs in abundance in low-income neighborhoods and where our racial minority populations reside as people of color are disproportionately impacted by gun violence.
- Joint public and private funding efforts: City legislators, agency leaders, philanthropists, corporate executives and business owners must come together and match resources needed to ensure that every young person in Denver can have access to the support they need. From mental health to social-emotional wellness to gang violence prevention interventions, it is necessary to provide a holistic approach to addressing the needs of our students. Every dollar counts and every sector counts in leveraging the resources we need.
- Strong family outreach: Awareness of counseling and mentoring programs among families need to be expanded so that families know where to turn to seek supports that their children need. Public awareness campaigns need to be implemented across the city to make sure information on available programs and services are accessible to anyone at any time. And we need to normalize the notion that seeking help is better than okay – it shows strength and courage to develop oneself for the better.
- Positive student peer support culture: Students themselves can do something by promoting positive peer support culture in schools. Minimize bullying and expand a culture of belonging and acceptance.
This is not the time to posture or polarize. Time and time again, we have watched students, like members of East Students Demand Action, stand up against gun violence in beg the adults and lawmakers in their community to listen and find solutions. Now it is our turn. This is the time to show our young people that we can come together and put them first on all of our lists – from the far northeast nonprofit to the downtown city hall, from the capitol on the hill to the penthouse boardrooms of our skyscrapers, we all need to be looking at the horizon of potential and promise. For the sake of our children, our grief, rage, and frustrations should be overcome by inspiration and hope.
Richard Anthony Tagle
President & CEO
Denver Public Schools Foundation