As students around the country marked the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, teachers in Connecticut sent a clear message that they, too, are pushing for stronger congressional action on gun violence in classrooms.
Representing all eight counties in Connecticut, dozens of teachers took part in a statewide relay race to the State Capitol—Running for Our Lives—to build on the momentum of a student-led movement demanding action for safer schools. Educators came from every part of the state, wearing colors they chose to represent their counties.
When the going gets tough
“When I learned about a teachers’ race to raise awareness about improving school safety, I immediately volunteered,” said Kieran Shippee, a health and physical education teacher at Bloomfield’s Global Experience Magnet School who ran a six-mile leg through Tolland. “Feeling safe in school is essential for students to learn.”
Fellow Bloomfield K-2 special education teacher Melanie Gabel’s team represented Hartford County and ran four legs through Windsor Locks, Windsor, and Hartford. “It’s important for young people to know that teachers support them in the changes they want to see. Too many teachers and students have been affected by school shootings, and we want to be able to no longer fear for our lives in what should be a safe place.”
Manuel (Manny) Zaldivar, K-5 EL bilingual teacher at Ana Grace Academy of the Arts CREC school in Avon, recently visited the Columbine Memorial and recalled, “As I walked through and read the quotes on the wall, I noticed that we have been saying the same things for many years. It’s time to stand up, walk, run, and speak up. I want my students to know that I will do anything in my power and capability to protect them and give them a voice. Government must do something to protect our schools. Enough is enough!”
The 2016 Milken Award winner, who ran three miles, said, “Those who know me well know that I do not run much, but I ran because I strongly believe that guns have no place in our schools. I want to be armed with resources to provide my students with the social, emotional, and academic skills they need so that they will influence our communities in a positive and productive way in the future.”
Echoing Zaldivar’s sentiments, Eastford Elementary School music teacher Liz Gagnon decided to participate because, she says, “As a teacher, I encourage my students to look ahead when things are tough, and I want them to know I am right there with them and there to protect them. While I may be quiet and soft-spoken, I will not be silenced, especially with regard to the safety of my students and colleagues.” Her leg of the race, she said, was “a typical Connecticut route—rolling hills with some flat terrain.”
The tough get going
For Torrington seventh-grade special education teacher Mark Mangalinkx, on the other hand, it was nearly all hills.
“My leg of the run involved running up Avon Mountain,” he said.
Mangalinkx added that he thought the relay was “Another needed step to keep raising awareness about teacher concerns for safety.”
Like her colleagues who have lost friends to school violence, East Hampton third grade teacher Beth Haydu ran to support not only students but also educators who have faced violence in their schools.
Stepping off in Ellington, Manchester High School algebra teacher Lana Kessell took one of the longest stretches of the relay race.
“I ran nine miles,” she said. “I decided to participate because I care deeply for my students. I would die for them, but I shouldn’t have to. Students should feel that school is a safe place to be. I am hoping that the government understands the importance of school safety and acknowledges that gun violence is an ongoing concern. I don’t want them to downplay the severity of it. Students are the future.”
Taking the last route of the relay for New London County, making her way from Wethersfield to the Capitol, U.S. history teacher Jenn Raub said, “I’m honored to be New London County’s captain, and I decided to participate because it’s time to advocate. It’s not enough to just send positive thoughts or wishes for change. Attention and awareness need to be brought to the issues that plague our schools and concern our students.”
A relative newcomer to the profession—in her fourth year of teaching and in her first year at East Lyme High School—Raub shared, “I hope that my students see that anyone can be a part of something bigger and that their teachers care so much more than they can imagine. I also hope that leaders see that teachers will not be quiet and that we will do whatever we can to be heard.”
Craig Wisniewski, an instructional coach in the Newington Public Schools, tackled a three-mile stretch starting in Suffield. “I ran to remember and honor all those who tragically lost their lives to school violence. I’m hoping that by running in events like these, we will keep the conversation alive until there is real change in this country.”
The statewide race was organized by Bloomfield teacher and running enthusiast Mary Kay Rendock.