Everett teacher Gary Cruz
Students of Peer to Peer instructor Gary Cruz have been organizing Everett Middle School's response to the National Day of Action on April 20th. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

They are Everett Middle School students, but for some, gun violence happens right around the block.

Jorge Caamal-Estrada, an eighth grader at Everett, said he was about five years old when a man was shot around the corner from his house off of Capp Street. The experience left a lasting impression — and the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the recent shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno offered reminders of gun violence.

“What we’re trying to do is stop school shootings. I’m trying not to let that happen to our school,” Caamal-Estrada said.

Caamal-Estrada and other students in Gary Cruz’s peer-to-peer class at Everett have organized an assembly for Friday’s National Day of Action against gun violence. With help from faculty, they filmed a video that will be played throughout the school. The event marks the anniversary of the April 20, 1999, shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that ended after 12 students and one teacher had been shot to death.

Veronica Zuleta, an eighth grader in the peer-to-peer class, said that during the shooting incident at YouTube earlier this month, she feared her mother, who works nearby in San Bruno, might get caught in the crossfire.

“I just wanted to stand up because 17 people died in February,” she said referring to the shooting in Parkland, Florida, shooting. “ It was really heartbreaking because they had dreams and goals like me. I don’t want to be in the news.”

Students found a receptive teacher in Cruz, who was teaching in the Central Valley when two students walked into a high school cafeteria in Littleton, Colorado, and opened fire with assault weapons.

“I really thought all this was just going to go away. I didn’t think it was going to continue. But since then, we’ve had many school shootings, and our country has not changed any of the laws,” Cruz said.

He worries now that, once again, the anti-gun-violence movement will falter.

“When this last shooting happened on Feb, 14, those young people were saying ‘never again.’ But I’m worried that the momentum is going to die down again and that we’re going to go back to business as usual, because I’m already seeing it.”

He’s helped his students organize the middle school’s response. Students are being encouraged to wear orange colors Friday, and to meet in group circles to talk about the impact gun violence has on their communities and their lives. They’ll convene in the school’s yard, assemble up on a peace sign and lock arms, write messages and listen to speakers.

Unlike the previous March for Our Lives, Cruz said the students and faculty at Everett do not plan on demonstrating in public. Their action is being organized, in large part, by the students themselves.

Bridget Early, part of the school’s wellness staff and a social worker for the school, said that after the shooting in Parkland, the school received a set of threats at Everett. They always seem to occur after a mass shooting happens. None have ever been serious, she said.

“I feel like it’s always on the back of my mind,” Early said.

Cruz said they also plan to introduce Aztec dancers into Friday’s assembly, in hopes of helping the community feel “centered.”

“I hope [it] will be healing, and also spiritual in the sense that we can call on the strength of our ancestors and the strength on the indigenous folks in the area to center us around this movement and keep us fighting,” Cruz said.

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  1. Thank you very much for the article featuring the voice of my students. If possible, could you please edit one piece? The actual name of the class is NOT Peer to Peer. The name of the class at Everett Middle School is Peer Resources and it is part of the San Francisco Peet Resources Program. Thank you, Gary Cruz