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'I'm more worried about a gun being in my classroom than my psych test. It's not fair.'

Virgil Worstell, Karli Jones and Taylor Lee all stand together, arms around each other - smiling at the camera.jpg
Rebecca Smith

Students for Change is a student-led group in the Columbia Public Schools. Karli Jones and Taylor Lee both attend Hickman High School, and Virgil Worstell is a student at Rockbridge.

They spoke about how their organization came to be and how the threat of gun violence impacts their day to day live.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Karli Jones: Hickman homecoming happened last was it October, there was rumors of a gun. And Taylor and I, I've known Taylor most of my life. And she called and she was like, "Hey, there was a gun on homecoming. I'm okay, now. I'm home," and I was like, it's really unfair that we need, we have to worry about that stuff.

So, I called her the next day. And I was like, "Hey, it's been heavy on my mind like is, would you be willing to start something with me to you know, elevate student voices, and bring our concerns to the district?" And she said I'm in.

Taylor Lee: Yeah. So, l I was there at the homecoming. And it was a really scary experience, something that I've never felt before. Just people were running out. There was just people were yelling, it was just it was really scary.

And I think that it brought a light into perspective, like this is a serious issue. Like it could happen to us because I think a main issue is people thinking, well, it wouldn't happen here. But it could. I think that's what everyone thinks too.

Karli Jones: It's terrifying. I come to school every day. I'm legally required to be there. I don't have a choice. And I think it's just a really, I don't know what other words to describe it. It is inhumane to put that many kids forcefully in a place and make them feel unsafe, because we aren't safe. And I don't think anybody really is because of the culture that America has around these kinds of things.

"If you don't know what's going on with gun violence at this point, with so many resources – it's a choice."
Virgil Worstell

Taylor Lee: It's walking into school every day, there's just always that little thought on the back of your mind. Like, what if someone has a gun? What if today, I'm texting my mom, like, “I love you, like if anything happens.” It's honestly just terrible in the fact that high schoolers are having to deal with this issue. I think I think it just says a lot.

Virgil Worstell: Yeah, and actually, I've heard a lot of other high schoolers say that, like – it's become like, I'm not even a conscious thing where you're in a class and you just like, map out your exits, basically. Or like hiding places. And that should not be something we have to do, especially to the it shouldn't be something we have to do, especially to the point we do it so much that a lot of us don't even realize it.

Karli Jones: And it's also like, I walk in the hallway, and it's like, “Oh, that person's wearing all black. Their backpack look looks extra bulky.” It's stuff like that. And I can't help but do it. And it is so distracting. Like, I'm more worried about a gun being in my classroom than my psych test. It's not fair.

Virgil Worstell: Yeah, it really isn’t.

Karli Jones: And that entire mindset is just it's so frustrating that we it's been over a year now that we've been working on this over a year, and we have never stopped, we've never taken a break.

I have done so many interviews and meetings, during my breaks, or my time off school, I've stepped out of my lunch at school to do these things. It should not be my job. It should not be anybody's job, especially a student, and the fact that we had to bring this up and we've had to continue to talk about it for a year and a half is so disheartening.

I can't legally vote, I can't legally drivel, and I am the one having these conversations in the district, and we've all had to do that.

Virgil Worstell: If you don't know what's going on with gun violence at this point, with so many resources – it's a choice.

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.