Santa Fe students hope to raise awareness about gun violence

Dec. 3 — Brightly painted tapestries commemorating victims of gun violence hung on the walls of Capital High School this week as Santa Fe middle and high schools celebrated Gun Violence Prevention Week.

Each tapestry, 3 to 5 feet long, was inscribed with the name of the Santa Fe school responsible for its manufacture. They were painted golden orange and emerald, bubblegum pink and navy blue. Some were decorated with flowers, others with butterflies. Some contained photos, others silhouettes. Some displayed objects – footballs, horses, books – while others offered messages of peace.

Each of the tapestries’ ornate panels served as a memorial to a person – often a child or teenager – killed by gun violence in the United States, and the underside of each tapestry bore the same simple message: “End gun violence!”

Student wellness ambassadors, in collaboration with district wellness officials and the advocacy group New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, designed the tapestry projects and other initiatives, including gun lock distributions and memorial art projects. Their goal: to offer schoolchildren a place where they can learn more about gun violence and discuss it with their peers.

The ambassadors’ efforts culminated on Friday in gatherings aimed at getting students to speak out about gun violence and its impact on their communities. At the conclusion of the meetings, all Capital High students had the opportunity to take the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence, in which they pledged never to carry a gun to school, never to break up a dispute with a gun, and to influence their friends to do so keep from settling disputes with guns.

Students also heard from former New Mexico United soccer player and coach David Estrada, who shared his own story of gun violence as a youth in Salinas, California and encouraged students to share their perspectives on the issue.

“I have no solutions for [the gun violence that] is being normalized in our communities,” Estrada told the crowd of students. “What I do know is that you guys, holding space for each other to discuss and heal from the effects of gun violence, are creating a pathway that will evolve into actionable change. … Make yourself heard, your community and your future.”

Student Wellness Ambassadors Crystal Valenzuela, a 11th grade student, and Jesus “Jay” Orona said raising awareness about gun violence and gun safety in the Capital High School community is an essential step towards a safer community inside and outside of the School. Both stated that they were personally affected by gun violence.

“I hope a lot of people will realize that we have too much gun violence in this world. We try to show it [other students] what happened to others. It could affect their families, friends, classmates, teachers. It’s really hard to lose a friend or family member [to] Gun violence,” Orona said.

Adult organizers Jenn Jevertson, associate director of the Santa Fe Public Schools Office of Student Wellness, and Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed.

These activities should help students stop and think about violence and their own experiences, as well as keep a safe distance and respond if they come across a gun, Jevertson said.

“If we don’t have these conversations with children and don’t help them speak out on this issue, gun violence will escalate,” Viscoli said.

Meanwhile, Viscoli believes encouraging the promise not to use violence to resolve conflicts and urging friends to do the same is really having an impact on students. Since 2014, when Santa Fe schools first implemented the pledge, the rate of students bringing a gun to school has dropped 52 percent, according to the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey. Viscoli suspects that gun violence prevention education played a role in the decline.

“Teens deserve to grow up in a world where they don’t have to worry about gun violence — especially at school and not when they’re hanging out with their friends,” Jevertson said. “We really hope that all of that awareness goes a little bit deeper through these conversations.”