Schools Observe a "Day of National Concern” Addressing Young People and Violence
CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA – Approximately 16,000 local students joined students from around the country this week in pledging to do their part to end gun violence. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa, the Cedar Rapids and Marion Police Departments, and the Linn County Sheriff’s Office are partnering with local school districts to promote discussion of the impact of violence on youth in observance of the 19th annual Day of National Concern. Each of the 17 middle and high schools in the Cedar Rapids, College Community, Marion Independent, and Linn-Mar School Districts participated.
More than 10 million young people have participated in this anti-violence campaign since it was initiated in 1996 through a Presidential Proclamation and unanimous United States Senate Resolution. The cornerstone of the initiative is the signing of a pledge in which students promise to never use a gun or violence to settle a personal dispute and to use their influence to keep their friends from doing the same. Nationwide, the pledge is often combined with school assemblies, homeroom activities, guest speakers, rallies, essay and poetry contests, displays of art work publicizing the toll of gun violence, and the beginning of many conversations about gun violence between students and adults.
Locally, each school planned activities that best fit the needs of the individual school, often involving student groups in planning the events. Some examples of the activities in which students took part include:
- Washington High School students were addressed by a former student who was disabled as a result of gun violence.
- Metro High School students read a gun violence statistic over the intercom during announcements and were asked to write essays about “the rest of their lives,” for famous figures who had their lives cut short by gun violence, imagining what they could have accomplished.
- Jefferson High School hosted a student-moderated panel, during which students engaged in a Q&A discussion including: U.S. Attorney Techau, Assistant U.S. Attorney Deegan, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Jerman, Linn County Sheriff Gardner, Linn County Attorney Vander Sanden, FBI Special Agent Reinwart, CEO of Horizons Mr. Cassell, and Jefferson High School Principal McDonnell.
- Marion High School hosted an informal “Lunch with the U.S. Attorney and Marion Police Chief” where they engaged in a casual discussion with students regarding the issue of gun violence and what students could do to make a difference.
- Vernon Middle School students received a presentation from an Assistant U.S. Attorney then signed the pledge on an enlarge pledge poster which will be prominently displayed in the school.
- Prairie Point Middle School and Ninth Grade Academy filmed a web-video in which the U.S. Attorney and Cedar Rapids Police Chief discussed the issue of youth and violence with the Student Council President.
- Prairie High School students developed awareness posters to hang around the school and approximately 50 students engaged in a conversation with an Assistant United States Attorney.
- Several middle schools in the Cedar Rapids and Linn-Mar districts broadened the message to focus on violence in general, and combined the pledge’s anti-violence message with anti-bullying and conflict-resolution speakers and lessons.
Several Assistant United States Attorneys and other local law enforcement officials attended and spoke at many of these events. Students were also offered the chance to participate in the Day of National Concern and Student Pledge Against Gun Violence by tweeting at #GunPledgeCR.
Kevin W. Techau, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa stated, “I commend all of the Cedar Rapids and Marion area students for taking the positive step of saying no to guns in schools. The NO Gun pledge and the discussion it generated in our area schools will have a positive impact in our community. We were proud to partner with Cedar Rapids and Marion Police Departments, Linn County Sheriff’s Office and the Cedar Rapids, Marion, Prairie, and Linn-Mar schools in the first ever Iowa observation of the Day of National Concern.”
Coordinator for the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Lightfoot, joins students at Vernon Middle School before they sign the pledge.
Students at Prairie High School sign the pledge.
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