When my son graduated the eighth grade, I took him our for sushi. That was his special meal. I bought him a new phone, and that was his graduation present. Pretty typical, right? In a perfect world, this is sort of the way it works. Kids get a little something special when they graduate, they eat delicious food, and everyone's happy. Except this world is far from perfect, as evidenced by this school's graduation present to eighth graders. It's a terrible reminder that we are continuously failing our kids in the most basic, integral way. We are not keeping them safe.
The eighth grade graduating class at St. Cornelius in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania were all given gifts to help prepare them for the big move to high school in September. No, it wasn't a decorating kit for their locker or something equally sweet and funny. They were given bulletproof backpack plates, courtesy of a donation from local company Unequal Technologies, according to Fox 29. The company developed a 10-by-12 inch ultra-thin Safe Shield designed to be slipped into backpacks, ostensibly in case of mass shootings. The students at St. Cornelius were reportedly feeling a little uncomfortable with the gifts, and one student told Fox 29; "I never thought I'd need this."
St. Cornelius is a school in a small, quiet community. The sort of place that gives parents the sense that they are raising their children in an environment of safety. A sweet cocoon, removed from the rest of the dangerous world. Of course, we now know that there is no such community in the United States. As CBS News noted in May, most mass school shootings (like the one that happened at a high school in Texas at the beginning of the month, where 10 people lost their lives) happen in small towns. Which means this awful, tragic gift isn't just an example of how we are failing our kids by continuing to allow them to go to school in a truly hazardous environment, it could also prove to be necessary down the road. As one great-grandparent of a St. Cornelius student told Fox 29:
You hear about these school shootings almost weekly, and I can't believe that's where we are in our nation today, but that's the fact.
Unequal Technologies President Rob Vito, whose daughter is part of St. Cornelius' graduating class, attempted to comfort parents with his gift, assuring them that "Handguns are useless against a product like this. Shotguns are useless against a product like this," according to Fox 29.
And it isn't as though St. Cornelius has not made significant efforts to keep the students safe. Visitors are expected to show their driver's license if they want to get into the school, and those are put through a database to check for any red flags. As Principal Barbara Rossini told the news outlet:
Anything that we can do to protect our children and our staff, that’s what we have — that's my job, to try to protect them and I try to do the best I can.
Therein lies the rub. Perhaps we've become so anesthetized to gun violence, to preparing our children to expect the worst when they go to school, that we've forgotten this is not how it's supposed to be. That there are children all over the world who go to school and feel safe. Kids in Australia, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and Denmark are going to school without the fear of being shot. Who would have no concept of donning a bulletproof shield in their backpack. Kids entering high school who are worried about navigating the halls, worrying about making new friends, and passing their classes. Because isn't that more than enough for them to worry about?
How have we failed our children so badly that bulletproof shields for their backpacks are a graduation present? What will it take to enact more reasonable gun laws?