Gun violence hits close to home for many of the students at Brittany Woods Middle School in University City, Missouri. During this school year, alone, a sixth grader at the school was tragically shot and killed by a fellow sixth grader while playing with his grandfather’s gun, and two seventh graders lost their older siblings to gun violence.
So, when it came time for the seventh graders in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) to brainstorm issues and topics that were important to them, as well as issues that affect the Brittany Woods community, there was no question that it was gun violence.
Over the spring semester, the teens actively worked on their STOP the SHOTS community service learning project that aimed to raise awareness about gun violence in their community and create a safer space for them to live. Their motto “Only YOU can STOP what WE started!” reinforces how important youth voices are in addressing societal issues and represents the valuable role they can play in advocacy and change.
At Brittany Woods, TOP® is integrated into seventh grade social studies classes and aligns community service learning projects with that curriculum. In their 3rd quarter, the students learned about the civil rights movement, government and advocacy. Using what they learned about the advocates for social justice during the civil rights movement, the teens made videos, posters, wrote poetry, made buttons, and wrote to state senators and the president about the issue of gun violence that has directly affected them, their families and their community. The teens plan to measure their impact by personal reflections, responses from congressmen, conversations in the hallway, and hits to their website that showcases their work.
Youth voices are becoming increasingly recognized as important to understanding and addressing issues within our society. It is important that we continue to encourage youth to speak out on issues that are affecting their families and communities and work together to make the streets and neighborhood safer for everyone.