I hope

Opinion Column by Mia Butler

I woke up at 6:50 a.m. Despite my attempt at a speedy and trusty routine, I was late to school. I pulled in at a ripe 7:56, missing the first bell by just a pinch. Shamefully walking up the school parking lot, I gaze up at nature’s finest painting: the morning sky, featuring light poles decorated in the ornaments of the 21th century: security cameras. I gaze up at them. They gaze down at me. “Safety purposes,” they say.  

I walk in the first set of doors, past the first security keypad, through the second doors, and then past the front where the office ladies are confined behind a container of glass. Bulletproof, I assume. I hope. And finally, since I’m late, the office ladies have to “allow” me into school. By the clicking noise of the now second security keypad and the red light blinking green, I am free to go to class, free to learn, free to live. I hope

It took me, technically speaking, four layers of security to get into my own school. But who am I to complain, because to complain would be entirely ignorant. I’m grateful for my comparatively simple entrance because the school next door has more steps than mine. 

The kids down the road are greeted by a police officer at the entrance. What says “good morning students” quite like a grown man with a gun in his pocket? Yet, better him than someone else, America supposes. And while maybe the idea of a cop protecting the school from an active shooter is there, it certainly is not reliable, or at least it wasn’t fifty-one times in 2022 (Edweek.org).

Summer break is the American teenager’s lottery. After 180-some days of eight-hour work days, midnight studying, PowerSchool refreshing, and climbing the mountains of homework, we are finally free. Last summer’s heat practically blazed on me as I drove to school; the sound of my blinker signaling left into the parking lot was tuned out by Spotify’s “Summer Jams” playlist; and the stress of my exams faded with the thoughts of lakes, bonfires, and tank tops. For sixty days after this, I would not have to worry about tardy passes, grades, and stepping foot in school. Yet, while this was my last day of school, it was also twenty-one others’. 

On May 24, 2022, Robb Elementary of Uvalde, Texas was attacked by an active shooter. While I was hearing the final bell ring, fifteen hours away from me, children were hearing the shots of an AR-15– a sound so terrifying that even the 376 federal and state law enforcers present feared so much that they failed to confront the gunman for seventy-three minutes. Despite the police, sheriffs, and border patrol being too intimidated to save lives, the parents of Robb Elementary students were not. When the parents tried to enter the school themselves, tried to save their children, tried to rescue the wounded, and tried more fearlessly than the trained officials, that is when American Schools knew we had an issue. How many of these issues is it going to take to finally get a solution? How many lives need to be lost until math class becomes safe? How many families need to hurt until they know their child is promised to return home? As of this last year, school shootings reached a peak number of fifty-one, taking forty innocent lives, and leaving one-hundred people injured. If those numbers are not enough, then what statistic is going to be? Eighty shootings? A hundred?  Sixty lives? Seventy? (Texastribune.org).

The answer is just as unpredictable as the motives of the school shooters. Is it children who have been bullied, feel like an outcast, and seek others to feel the pain they feel? But what about the school shootings that are not executed by current students? How can you explain to a child that a random eighteen-year-old had simply felt the need to kill their classmate? Maybe it’s an American cultural issue. Video games have players in a chokehold to win by killing the most people, and by those means, murder is glorified in the light of victory. The phrase “start them young” could play a role. I mean, take a walk down the little boys’ toy section and you will see more toy gun options than legos. Might it be mental health issues? Not to be insensitive in vocabulary, but no sane person would waltz into a school with a semi-automatic weapon at 11:00 in the morning. Maybe it’s an emotional effect due to COVID. Isolation for duration is not good for the brain, science shows. Maybe it’s the easy access to firearms. Think about it: in a simple trip to Walmart you can buy bread, Barbies, and a rifle. A little girl in the craft aisle wanting a new toy is not alone; the recently turned eighteen-year-old in the aisle over also wants a new “toy.” Again, if society associates guns with toys at a young age, the association will remain throughout adulthood. 

Now I’m not a professional on this topic; rather, I’m just a seventeen-year-old girl who is tired. I’m tired of opening Instagram and seeing “rest in peace” hover over victims’ yearbook photos being reposted. The faces are always different, and so are the ages, but somehow it looks the same as the post I saw last week and the week before that one. I grow more infuriated as I tap through each post, yet simultaneously, more numb. It’s frightening to become accustomed to murders. I am tired of hearing CBS announce, “One dead, four injured at a school shooting,” as I sit, living, doing my homework. Why do I deserve to live while a teacher dies while selflessly protecting her students? I am tired of walking through intruder drills on the first day of school. We come back from sunshine to practice sitting in a dark corner, hidden from all the windows, waiting for the police to jiggle the door handle and grade us on our timing. Hopefully, we pass the test! Hopefully, our skills never come in handy. Hopefully. I’m tired. Educators are tired. Communities are tired. 

Still, exhaustion increases as there is no solution Congress, school boards, or districts have made that has eliminated the reality of a school shooting. What a chilling phrase. “The reality.” We can say we wish it wasn’t the reality of our system, but wishing only gets us so far. Wishing isn’t going to make schools safe. So, safety protocols began to fill in the void of wishes after prayers and hope didn’t suffice. 

Plan A was to stick metal detectors in the entryways of schools. This system feels a lot less like you’re going to physics class and a whole lot more like TSA. Visually, this system seems safe, efficient, and secure— but don’t be fooled. The machines are easily bypassed by students as kids grow impatient, and the truth is, nobody wants to wait in line to get into school. Lines are for concerts, roller coasters, and food, not tests. This billion-dollar solution is just a fresh layer of paint: it’s not really solving the issue at hand, it’s just a silver coat covering up the ugly that installs fear more so than security. So, some schools resort to plan B, a solution my inner child cannot fathom facing. 

As a child, back-to-school shopping was oddly one of my favorite things, not because I was closer to the season of routines and mediocre cafeteria food, but because it meant new supplies. Target during August of childhood was like the Louvre for me. Five Star released shimmery folders and Pen and Gear created new ultra-grippy mechanical pencils with bright colors. What more could a girl want? I was satisfied. I was always satisfied. I was satisfied because while my mom pushed the cart, my eyes were paralyzed by the most intricate locker decorations: mirrors, baskets, magnets, frames, and rugs. Pencil pouches with texture and fur caused the most beautiful sensory overload. And finally, “go big or go home” was always my mentality with the golden ticket of school supplies: my backpack.

The backpack set the precedent for the school year. JanSport, Lands End, Under Armour, and the infamous monogrammed look, all had my mind captivated. Within the backpack selection, there were unwritten rules: God forbid you get a roller-backpack, that was the dead giveaway of the weird kids. Do not, and I repeat, do not get a satchel. Trust me, I had one. And never, ever get a “Trapper-Keeper.” That was so fourth grade. However, it’s been seven years since I have gone through this shopping routine, but yet another rule has been created, one that is mandatory and school-issued: clear backpacks.

 Clear backpacks stepped into the picture in 2018 after the Parkland shooting where seventeen lives were innocently lost. Although several schools embodied the clear bag system, the rise of these “safety measures” was fairly slow until Robb Elementary woke up the nation and called for a solution. A majority of schools in the Dallas area and in southern Texas decided to implement the transparent bag policy. Now, come August of back-to-school shopping, there are even more supply options that I, gratefully, never had. Clear backpacks, bulletproof binders, heavy-duty lunch boxes that dual operate as a shield, and emergency kits (not just the type of kit with Hello-Kitty bandaids anymore). Still, these options are not a solution to America’s crisis but just another layer of paint. Clear backpacks send the unspoken message that the school does not trust their own students and that kids should be fearful of their desk mates. This policy is also predominantly defective as most school shooters bring their firearms fully exposed and not in a backpack. All these measures are not solutions. They are not making schools safer. But yet, America continues to implement them. Predictably, they continue to fail. And fearfully, we continue to hope

Right here is where I intended to conclude this essay. I wanted to wrap everything up in a neat conclusion and finish this paper with a question, but instead, I’m the one left questioning. Who was I to think that I could leave Americans brooding? I should have left that up to the grown man who intentionally shot eight Michigan State University students this morning. Before I could even finish this paper, three students were killed and five were left hospitalized. America has not even made it two months into 2023 and there has already been eight school shootings. I could not even make it four pages without another one occurring (police.msu.org).

Now, the buildings where the shooting occurred had no metal detectors, clear backpacks, or campus police, but as you and I both know, if those protocols had been instituted, they would have failed, just as they did countless times last year, and as they continue to this year.  

So if these protocols are not successful in ensuring every child and teacher a future, then what is? Again, I’m just a 17-year-old girl, not a legislator, not a grieving parent, not a victim— yet. But I’m not willing to take my chances until “yet” becomes the present. Nobody should be willing to take those chances and nobody deserves to. Schools are meant to be safe, exciting, and learning environments. It’s hard to feel safe when you have to walk past four layers of security to get to class. It’s impossible to be excited for school when police officers are the first faces you see. It’s strenuous to learn when lesson plans are interrupted by the sound of gunfire.

An education is one of the greatest gifts someone can obtain. We need education and we need schools, but we also need change. How many more shootings need to occur and lives need to be lost until American schools become safe? 

I hope by the time you are reading this, America is closer to that answer. I hope that someone is able to focus on vocab and not the nearest escape route. I hope that police can stay at the station, that metal detectors are only used during science experiments, and that everyone gets the backpack they want. I hope.





Mia Butler won an NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Superior award for this column in the 2023 Achievement Awards in Writing Contest. Mia is currently a Marian journalism I student.

The NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing is a school-based writing program established in 1957 to
encourage high school students to write and to recognize some of the best student writers in the nation.
Only students who are juniors may participate. Schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, US
territories, Canada, and American schools abroad are eligible to nominate students for the writing

This year, schools nominated 360 students. Of that number, 114 were selected to receive the First Class
designation, 131 received the Superior designation, 71 received the Excellent designation, and 31
received the Merit designation. Each student submitted two pieces of writing. Two to three
independent judges scored each submission on expression of ideas, language use, and unique
perspective and voice.

For more information about the NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing, including past winners, see

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is the nation’s most comprehensive literacy
organization, supporting more than 25,000 teachers across the preK–college spectrum. Through the
expertise of its members, NCTE has served at the forefront of every major improvement in the teaching
and learning of English and the and the language arts since 1911. http://www.ncte.org

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