Schaefer students create Project Peace

Group from Springfield middle school created to bring awareness to gun violence.

Credit: Beth Dixon

Credit: Beth Dixon

Students at Schaefer Middle School shared results of what they determined is one of the biggest problems facing them and their peers during a presentation on Friday afternoon.

Dressed in tie-die shirts with their school colors and a peace symbol, Victoria Stewart, Kairi Krauss, Gabrielle Shoemaker and Airiana Stapleton represented a group named Project Peace and presented facts and survey results they’d gathered for invited guests Clark County Juvenile Court Judge Katrine Lancaster and probation officers on gun violence.

The presentation stemmed from a youth summit last fall at Wittenberg University where Springfield City School District middle-schoolers met to brainstorm the root causes of depression and anxiety among youth and put together plans for how to bring attention to the issues.

The youth-led projects were funded by the Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties, with guidance counselors serving as adult allies.

Students at Hayward Middle School created a safe space in the school for those feeling anxious, and in March, Roosevelt Middle School students addressed the communication gap between kids and their adult family members.

The 12 Project Peace students determined gun violence was the root cause of problems facing their peers. The students found that 26 deaths by firearms happened in Clark County in 2021 according to Melanie Bender of the Clark County Coroner’s Office, who was present. Just since starting their research, two teens have died and two others were injured by gun violence, and classmates’ family members have also been hurt or killed.

Led by counselor Terri Connolly, Project Peace members reached out to their peers at Schaefer, Hayward and Roosevelt with survey questions such as how many kids do you know who have or carry a gun, have had friends injured or die due to gun violence among them.

The girls each took turns sharing the research. One of their findings was gun violence is promoted through social media and video games.

“If you die, you can come back to life,” Stapleton said of the gaming.

They made clear this wasn’t about banning guns. Shoemaker shared her dad is a gunowner and has taught her responsible usage of firearms.

There was also a point that the statistics don’t always bear out the fear.

A dialogue between the students and guests allowed them to swap ideas that could help both sides. The kids would like school resource officers to have more of a presence inside the school, and possibly more activities outside of school, allowing less chance to get into mischief.

The kids shared one positive was a peer-led circle time that allows self-expression several times a day has led to fewer fights among students since the beginning of the year, and they’d like more counselors available.

The group’s many hours spent after school preparing for this helped them answer questions from the attendees. Stapleton joked she was actually relieved to go back to class.

“The kids did a great job,” Lancaster said. “I was really impressed with the specific data and love the idea of junior high schools doing things like this.”

While the school year finishes in a few weeks, Project Peace members don’t want this to be the end of their efforts. In May, they plan a moment of silence during morning announcements with a quote about peace, and students and staff will be encouraged to wear white in support of peace.

They also have a banner reading “I Pledge Peace” to be signed by students and staff, wristbands with the Project Peace logo and lined up guest speakers for an assembly.

They’d also like Project Peace’s messages to spread to other schools.

“We hope this can be a building block and maybe we can dig a little deeper,” Connolly said.

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