Students react to storming of the Capitol

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: January 07, 2021 06:12 PM
Created: January 07, 2021 04:14 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Young people who saw what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday are still trying to wrap their heads around what it means for our country and for them. Obviously, the conversation with kids is different depending on how old they are, how much they saw and how much they know but for many middle and high school students, Wednesday’s events brought up a lot of emotions.

Students, teachers and social workers at Northeast College Preparatory High School in Rochester had a long conversation Thursday morning.

“A lot have a hard time unpacking the images that they were seeing versus what we were seeing in our community this summer in response to the BLM protest and movement,” said Jessica Nordquist, an RCSD social worker who helped lead the discussion.  

“They really are like, “Ms. Pryor, you know if that was us, this would have happened” or if the people at the Capitol looked like so and so,” explained Assistant Principal Kirstin Pryor.  

There were particular images the students were troubled by.

“the little barricade being kinda shaken a little bit at the Capitol versus what happened with the barricades if you were on the bridge this summer by the public safety building,” Pryor said.  

And then there were the pictures and videos of people walking out of the Capitol not in handcuffs or in police custody.

“They're trying to wrestle with how is this possible that all of these people were able to go in, get stuff and get out and get away with it, in their minds that wouldn't even happen at a corner store so how is that happening at our Capitol building,” said Nordquist of part of the conversation.  

Nordquist and Pryor say many of the young people had spent hours following the events of Wednesday and craving more information which of course opened up other discussions.

“What media sources are you looking at and how does that shape you? Well let's look at these two pictures together, what are you noticing, who is controlling this narrative… so it goes into other different systems that are holding power over us and we get to start having rich conversations with students about that can really empower them to start looking at change,” Nordquist explained.

And then, Pryor says, it’s about understanding how history can be used to determine that change.

“For the first time in some of our students' lives, this notion of participation in government, the French Revolution is making a whole lot more sense to them and seeking a whole lot more relevant now because they're starting to think about it in terms of actual people, questions about government, transitions of power how we get involved in our civic spaces,” Pryor said.

In other districts across Monroe County, similar discussions were had.  Katie Currin is a 7th grade English teacher at Gates Chili Middle School.

“I am always surprised with how much my 12-year-olds know, how aware they are, how inquisitive they are especially about world events and they were very, very interested. I assumed this (conversation) would take about 10 minutes and it ended up taking the entire class which is about 45 minutes of conversation,” she explained.

As for what their reactions were, “I had three kids that were in-house and 4 that were remote and my remote kids were very quiet today which is not normal and there was worry, there was worry. There was worry about how this would affect them and their families,” Currin said.

When it comes to the educators themselves, “marrying our own political perspectives with what we have to do for kids is often a challenge but I do think primarily people are always focused on how do I explain this to the children that are in front of me tomorrow, how do I provide a safe, caring, supportive, nurturing environment for them and how do I also use this as a teachable moment,” said Dr. Kevin McGowan, the Superintendent of Brighton Schools.  

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) - Are there any sort of rules and restrictions for how they (teachers/educators) can talk to kids about these kinds of things or is it just more an open forum where they’re supposed to moderate and let the kids discuss amongst themselves?

Dr. Kevin McGowan - That’s a great question…we’ve never said to people don’t share your personal perspective and we wouldn’t, we want people to be able to express themselves, we want to honor the fact that people have thoughts and ideas of their own and it’s actually important for kids to see as individuals and citizens we have our own perspectives too.  There is a very careful balance though between sharing our personal perspectives and understanding that with a captive audience, we want to make sure it’s a safe space for children to also be able to do that.


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