For many students, the start of school comes with feelings of anticipation of the year ahead, and the dread of a looming workload after a relaxing summer. However, for students living in El Paso, Texas, the start of school comes with another emotion – fear.
On the morning of Saturday, August 3, a gunman killed twenty-two people and injured another twenty-four at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in an act of domestic terrorism.
A few weeks later, Teresa Garrett and Elvira Flores, two elementary school teachers in El Paso, posted on an online teacher group asking for postcards of encouragement that they could give to students once school started. Mary Van Atta, social studies teacher and 21st Century Leaders advisor, decided to take up the project at Grady.
“Dr. Bockman sent an email… to the entire faculty and the email indicated that these two elementary school teachers in El Paso, Texas wanted the kids to receive postcards of encouragement,” said Van Atta. “ I’m the advisor of 21st Century Leaders… part of what we do is community service. I thought it might be a good opportunity for students at Grady.”
Several teachers gave students class time to make postcards, and Van Atta hosted sessions during lunch and after school for students to make them. Although students could get half an hour of community service for every card made, the real reason for the project was to show support for kids affected by the shooting.
“These are kids who may or may not of known somebody specifically who was directly impacted,” said Van Atta. The entire community is suffering, and when parents feel stressed, and older siblings feel stress, little kids feel stress too.”
Social Studies chair and AP US History teacher Roderick Pope also implemented the postcards into his class time.
“I felt that [writing postcards] was a perfect social studies kind of project for the kids,” said Pope. “I think that it makes them more socially conscious about what other people are going through.”
Junior Nicky Taylor wrote a postcard while in Pope’s class.
“To me, the purpose is to give a bit of confidence and inspiration back to the children in El Paso after what they’ve been through,” said Taylor. ”No student should ever be afraid to attend school, much less be afraid to walk out the front door of their house. By sending postcards with warm-wishing messages, I think it will at least help them to see that there are people out there who care and are looking out for them.”
While enthusiastic about writing postcards, students did face a few challenges. According to Pope, the main difficulty students struggled with was deciding what to say and what not to say to the children.
“The postcard I wrote wished them to have a great school year and to stay safe,” said Taylor. “My goal was to give some reassurance or confidence in returning back to school.”
The main purpose for the cards is that they will provide hope to children in El Paso and encourage those concerned about the tragedy to come together and support one another.
“I think that it is paying it forward,” said Pope. “It is coming together as human beings in this country, at a time where everything sort of seems to be socially unraveling, and knowing that we don’t have the right to scare little children.”