Norwalk high students explore gun control, school safety: Friday, April 12, 2013 By MATT COYNE Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK -- Friday, Norwalk High School students had a wide-ranging conversation on gun control, school security and crime. And they used a book as the jumping off point.
The students, part of the school's Lunch Bunch Book Club, had just finished "This is Not a Drill," by former middle and high school teacher Beck McDowell, which follows two high school students held hostage in an elementary school where they tutor.
"When I read the book, I immediately thought of Sandy Hook," said Willetta Payton, Norwalk High library media specialist and book club facilitator. "I even cried at the end. It got so emotional."
Payton said in the break between lunch shifts -- students stop by the library, get food and talk about the book in lieu of sitting in the cafeteria -- she will either pick the book or let the students choose via a survey, but "This is Not a Drill" stood out to her as a good choice, as it let students discuss current events, as well as the book.
In "This is Not a Drill," the narration flips between the two students, Jake and Emery, whose class includes Patrick, the son of Iraq War veteran Brian Stutts.
Stutts, stuck in a child custody battle and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, takes the classroom hostage to try in an attempt to get his son.
In discussing the book, the students connected the book with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, their own experiences with school safety and their thoughts on gun control, as Payton verbally poked and prodded the discussion along.
Students were generally in favor of more gun legislation, but some questioned how much it would work.
They also felt generally safe in the school.
Sophomore Barbara Nelson wondered if criminals would follow the new gun laws, passed last week.
"There are a lot of criminals already and their minds are already set to that," she said. "There might not be anY less murders."
In discussing the book, students blamed the hostage situation on a failure to pay attention to mental health, a lack of mental health care for veterans and the fictional school's security. When Payton asked the students if they felt safe in the school, they did.
"I feel we're pretty secure because we have five security (guards)," said book club member Aisha Taylor. "I think more security could be needed, but the teachers make sure we're okay. A lot of the teachers are mentors for us."
Sophomore Jessica Chapman agreed about the teachers.
"I noticed after Sandy Hook teachers were covering the windows on their doors and doing little things to make us safer," she said.
For Payton, Friday's meeting was a successful one.
"I was impressed with the dialogue. It was very rich. It let me know that they did read the book and it cemented things they were telling me all along (about the book)," she said. "I was impressed with the level of conversation. Sometimes -- I've been doing book clubs for a long time -- the conversation isn't as rich as that."