Colorado teachers on what they want done to make their classrooms safer (Local News and Reviews)

For the third time this year, students and teachers filled the Colorado Capitol to demand lawmakers pass policies to prevent gun violence. 

The latest rally, which came Friday, a few days after two East High School administrators were shot by a 17-year-old student who later killed himself, was focused on teachers. Scores of educators gathered on the west steps of the Capitol before filling the building’s hallways, waving signs, chanting and listening to various speakers from the legislature and schools.

The Colorado Sun interviewed five protesting teachers to learn more about how they’ve been affected by violence in schools and what action they would like to see the legislature take:

Deborah Blake by the west steps of the Colorado Capitol
Deborah Blake is a special education teacher at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary in the Adams 12 Five Star Schools. (Elliott Wenzler, The Colorado Sun)

Deborah Blake 

Blake, a special education teacher at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary in the Adams 12 Five Star Schools, is always trying to find the right balance between making her students feel safe and telling them the truth about the threat of school violence. 

“I just try to be as honest as I can,” she said. “But it’s not good enough.”

Outside of the emotional impacts of the shootings, Blake worries that addressing the threat of shootings gobbles up educational resources that should go to classrooms. 

“The money we have to put into making our schools prisons takes away from the money we can put into education. By making our buildings safer, it takes away from being able to hire more classroom teachers,” she said.

Blake attended the Capitol protest Friday because of the lack of action she’s seen from elected officials to address student deaths from gun violence. 

“There’s a lack of understanding of the emotional toll it puts on an entire community. It’s heartbreaking. It’s gut wrenching,” she said. 

Sheila Baker inside the Colorado Capitol
Sheila Baker is a paraprofessional at Joe Shoemaker School in Denver. (Elliott Wenzler, The Colorado Sun)

Sheila Baker

Baker, a paraprofessional at Joe Shoemaker School in Denver, wants to see more focus on mental health as a way to address violence in schools. She thinks about how the 17-year-old East High School shooter could have been better supported. 

“What was going on in his life that made him make this decision? And then to want to take his own life?” she said. 

Baker’s son will eventually be a student at East High School, and she worries about his emotional and physical wellbeing. A 16-year-old student, Luis Garcia, died March 1 after being wounded in a shooting near East in February.

“It is scary to send him into something that has had so many issues so close together,” she said. 

Tyler Mimken inside the Colorado Capitol
Tyler Mimken is a kindergarten teacher at Columbine Elementary in Denver and parent of two East High School students. (Elliott Wenzler, The Colorado Sun)

Tyler Mimken

Mimken, a kindergarten teacher at Columbine Elementary in Denver and parent of two East High School students, said his children don’t feel safe at school.

“Their mental status wavers day to day,” he said. “As a parent, I have a hard time with grappling if this is a safe place for them to be.”

So far, his teenage kids haven’t opened up much about how they’re feeling. And the kindergarteners he teaches aren’t yet old enough to talk about it.

“It’s going to take time,” he said. 

He went to the Capitol on Friday in support of stricter gun control laws.

Danielle Zuroweste is a teacher at Dora Moore School in Denver. (Elliott Wenzler, The Colorado Sun)

Danielle Zuroweste

A teacher at Dora Moore School in Denver and educator for 14 years, Zuroweste hoped school safety would have been solved by now. Instead, she feels like schools are only getting more dangerous. 

Zuroweste struggles to talk with her young students about the safety concerns at schools, she said.

“The younger kiddos have very basic conversations about it, the older kiddos, we have more realistic conversations,” she said. 

Those talks include plans for when to hide and when to run. 

Zuroweste’s 4-year-old daughter has already learned to recognize the alert sound that tells her it’s time for a lockdown drill, she said. 

“She doesn’t really know exactly what it means, she just knows it means to hide,” she said. 

Keivan Perkins

Perkins is a middle school teacher in Denver Public Schools and wants to see more mental health workers in schools in the hopes that it could prevent shootings.

“Just thinking about how (the East High School shooter) did what he did and then ended his own life afterwards. (It) makes me angry — not at him but at the district and the state for not giving us the resources to help prevent this,” Perkins said. 

Perkins started his classes the day after the shooting at East by asking his students to share  their feelings about the violence.

“Some of them were really sad that this happened to a student of color, because pretty much all my kids are students of color,” he said. “It affects them emotionally.” 

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