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Valley Teachers Don’t Fear Safety Despite School Violence Increase

Maryvale High School student Hector Villalba plays the cello.
(Photo courtesy of BrieAnna Frank)
Maryvale High School student Hector Villalba plays the cello.

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the mass shooting in Connecticut, when 20 children and six staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. With the memory still fresh in Arizona, students and teachers here have mixed opinions about the potential for gun violence at school.

School has just ended for the day at Maryvale High School. Sixteen-year-old Hector Villalba sits in a hallway outside of the auditorium. The cross-country runner and avid musician said he is worried about his safety.

“It’s very uncomfortable here, because you go to the bathroom and you hear people drug dealing in there," said Villalba. "And it’s a weird feeling.”

Villalba said he often thinks about the history of school shootings in this country, Columbine, Sandy Hook and just a few months ago in Sparks, Nev.

He said he worries that fights on school grounds or bathroom drug deals could lead to more serious crimes.

“What if they do something else illegal like bring a gun to school" It’s a scary feeling," said Villalba.

And that makes him concerned that his school could become the next headline.

“Someone could come in with a sports bag that’s big enough to carry like an assault rifle or something, and no one would notice," Villalba said. "I cannot live in fear. I cannot be held hostage to the idea that it could happen.”

Pam Ramsey is a Maryvale English teacher. She is not worried at all about guns on campus and has been told to alert security if she does see someone with a weapon.

“But once the student pulls that gun out and starts threatening people? No, we have not had any kind of training," said Ramsey.

In the cafeteria during a recent lunch break, several security guards stand watch. Guards at Maryvale regularly walk the halls, and there is an armed school resource officer on campus. That officer makes between four and seven arrests per month which are mostly drug-related.

A few blocks away at Atkinson Middle School, Sue Adkins said she feels safe from gun violence in the classroom where she teaches reading.

“I don’t need to worry about that. That’s not going to happen with our kids," said Adkins.

That is because her kids are younger.

“It seems like it happens in high school more than middle school, so I guess that’s a false sense of security," said Adkins.

Atkinson Middle School has fewer security guards than Maryvale. Just one.

Next door, Tarver Elementary School has no security guards, but fifth-grade teacher Julie Orielly does not spend time worrying about what-ifs.

“Anything could happen to anybody at any given time, and so you live your life in fear, and then you’re always afraid. Then you’ve stolen your joy from your life," said Orielly.

Tarver is part of the Cartwright School District which has standard lockdown procedures in the event of a gun on campus. If a student were to bring a firearm to school, they would face suspension or expulsion and possible criminal charges.

Back at Maryvale High, Villalba would like to see more security.

“They don’t check backpacks here. They don’t even search kids. Even if they get in trouble they don’t search them," said Villalba.

But Maryvale’s resource officer said if a student has bloodshot eyes or smells like marijuana, they can be asked to open their backpack or empty their pockets. This is just one way schools are trying to protect students and teachers from violence.

BrieAnna Frank is part of KJZZ’s Spot 127 Youth Media Center.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to reflect that the anniversary of the Connecticut shooting is Saturday, Dec. 14.