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Salt Lake Schools Welcome Student Activism With Listening Session

Lee Hale
Salt Lake high school students chat with superintendent Lexi Cunningham during a listening session Monday.

As students across the country continue to speak out about gun violence and safety, some schools are trying to listen. That includes the superintendent and district administrators from Salt Lake City schools.

A listening session between administrators and high schooler was held on Monday at the district offices. It was lunchtime, so there was pizza and some time for chit chat. Then Lexi Cunningham, Salt Lake’s superintendent, jumped in.


“We thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone together and just talk about school safety in our schools and some of the things that are going on in our state and in our country," said Cunningham.

It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to gun legislation and proposals to arm teachers.

"I [wouldn't] feel safe knowing that my teachers are carrying guns to school every day," said AbenaBekenra, a student from West High School. "I think that instead of having this conversation that’s based on teachers having concealed carry, we need to shift it to helping our students."

A word that kept coming up again and again was "community." The students were concerned that their schools weren’t doing enough to reach students in pain, like the shooter in Florida, who might cause harm to themselves or others.

“In our school, mental health is a big factor among a lot of our students," said KaylaLambros, a student from Salt Lake Center for Science Education. She added that better, more trusting relationships between students and teachers is the first step to building strong school communities.

“I didn’t think that at a high school level that would be something they would pick up on," said Cunningham. "I am pleasantly surprised that they are seeing something like that as being really positive."

Cunningham also told the students she supported their decision to participate in a school walkout later this month. She just asked that they let their principals know where they plan to walk to so security can be provided.

Cunningham was hoping to discuss security logistics, like school entrances and drills, but said she’ll save that for next time.


Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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