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A fourth grade class at Samuel Powel Elementary School chose to march against gun violence because it has impacted so many of them.

Credit: Charlotte Laracy

On a weekday afternoon, most youngsters would be learning addition or practicing spelling. But this past Thursday, 2001 Graduate School of Education graduate “Doctor Joe” Alberti and “Teacher Chris” Powers’ fourth grade class at Samuel Powel Elementary School held large neon signs, marched around Powelton Village and yelled, “I matter! You matter! We matter! Guns don’t matter!”

The Powel fourth grade class has been learning about gun violence in Philadelphia through a service-learning project with Need in Deed, a nonprofit that facilitates service learning in classrooms. The students are able to choose an issue that they are interested in, and the teachers are able to incorporate the issue into the curriculum.

For many of the students, Teacher Chris notes, gun violence is a very personal issue. He says that about 75 percent of his students have had someone in their life killed by guns.

Many students talked about why they are marching against gun violence. One fourth grade girl said, “I have lost someone from gun violence, and I don’t want anyone else to have to suffer like I did.”

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, there have been 79 homicides in 2016 so far, through April 19. In 2015, there was a total of 280 homicides.

Doctor Joe said the students are also trying to fight the notion that adults will not listen to kids and to teach other students to be civically engaged throughout their lives.

“We hope to establish lifelong habits and awareness about issues that exist in the students’ communities, and by showing them that they can have a voice in making a positive change about these issues that affect them at their young age,” Joe said. “We hope to instill life-long advocacy in our students, showing them that you can never be too young — or too old — to advocate for yourself and others in your community.”

To help the students gain their voice, Need in Deed creates a framework to introduce students to many different social issues and allows the students to use their voices to choose an issue to study throughout an entire year as a group. The students have had numerous guest speakers come to talk about guns in their community and how they can advocate for change.

One of the guest speakers who also attended the march was Donna Bullock, a state representative for the 195th District and Democratic candidate for the 2nd District representative. On May 16, Bullock will bring the fourth grade class to Harrisburg to talk to other state representatives about sensible gun laws, such as HR Bill 1010.

The students learned about Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bill 1010, which would expand background checks to cover the private sale of long guns.

As they made their way back to the classroom, the student continued to cheer, “Listen up, everyone, put the guns down! Do it today and all year round!”

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