DMPS hosts its first Community Conversation in response to the fatal shooting on one of its campuses
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Des Moines Public Schools planned the five-part 'Community Conversation' series as a way to gather community input to better address student safety and resources at its schools. The first was Thursday evening at East High School, where three teens were shot last month.
Parents, students and faculty gathered in the school’s entrance. The district organized free childcare for registered attendees as well as a light meal of papusas, a traditional Central American dish.
"What you're seeing is a community that's responding to the events that have taken place, and also is responding to wanting to work with the district in a collaborative way," DMPS chair Dwana Bradley said.
She, along with interim superintendent Matt Smith, greeted people as they entered the building and waited in the papusa line.
"Violence is not just a school issue, it's a community issue. It's a state issue, it's a national issue. And so the solutions are within and among our community," Smith added. In order to heal, he explained, the community should come together, not resort to silence.
I think it's very powerful when we can bring our community together along with our school district to create some solutions to make things better for our students and our staff.
Mother of three Ana Rojas said the roundtable discussions mean a lot to her.
“They’re listening to our voices as mothers because sometimes they focus on the kids, but they don’t know our thoughts as mothers or as immigrants as well," she said in Spanish. Her oldest son is currently a senior at East High.
Rojas is from Mexico City. She said immigrant parents are accustomed to a different idea of school, with more protections. She described how immigrant families are facing the choque or clash of different cultures and that's something schools should take time to learn about.
Rojas explained how she wanted the discussion to help ease some of her doubts as a mother when it comes to her children's safety at school. And more importantly, how she and other parents can help the district keep their children safe and in school.
Maria Uribe, a mother of six, attended the meeting as well. She has co-led an initiative to bring back Student Resource Officers (SROs) to the schools. Some disagree with bringing SROs back, that program recently ended in the district. Uribe's petition has gathered around 1,700 signatures to bring back SROs.
"I would like to hear good things, I would like to hear that yes, there are going to be changes. Obviously there are many changes that are possible. We would not want to leave our children in unsafe schools," Uribe said in Spanish.
She said she wanted to have confidence in the schools, and she believes together, they can do it.
Devyn Sam, a 15-year-old East High sophomore, said he wants to make sure decision makers factor in student voices when considering changes.
“So I’m glad I’m here today to be able to express to the adults, the administrators, anybody above me, that my ideas are the students’ ideas and see if we can make a change," he said. "I feel like it's time for a change and I feel like this is a step in the right direction."
He didn't have any specific ideas he planned on sharing, he was going to listen to others' ideas and offer suggestions from a student perspective. But, he noted, he was open to any opinion.
Superintendent Smith appreciated students attending, and said "we have to continue to be better together for one another, and create a future that our students deserve. And they want to be a part of that. And so their voices are important to be a part of that solution."
During the roundtable discussions, participants were given worksheets to fill out with their suggestions. Near the end of the event, they were invited to share their ideas.
One group of primarily Spanish-speakers shared that they felt they didn't have enough time. They were concerned the format was not culturally inclusive and urged organizers to consider that for future conversations, since they felt they could not properly participate without feeling pressured for time.
The roundtable discussions are only available to those who register. The district will collect the discussion responses and themes at each of the events and gather them into a publicly shared report in partnership with Aces 360. DMPS said the report will guide future planning.