The effect of gun violence on a student’s daily life

By Vivian Kaleta, Copy Editor

Payton’s security guards complete random bag checks every morning to ensure a safe school environment.  

“Be aware of what you’re doing. Always. Because the minute you let your guard down, things can change.” 

This advice was given by Kayla Sykes, a 16-year-old North Grand Highschool student who is affected by gun violence every day. Sykes was recently involved in an incident of crossfire shooting. In a matter of seconds, a peaceful walk outside became a life-or-death situation. Such a turn of events has as Skyes says, “really changed the way she sees things.”

 Currently, Payton students come from 77 communities across Chicago, the majority of which take some form of public transportation to school. Many students either live in or live by areas with high rates of gun violence. Like Skyes, these students’ daily lives are affected, hurting them in the long term mentally. Despite how prevalent this is, the experiences and feelings behind violence statistics are swept under the rug by leaders in Chicago’s schools and city council. Payton is not an exception to this. 

2021 ended as one of the most violent years on record for Chicago in the past 25 years.  According to statistics released by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, as of Dec. 31, there were 834 reported homicides and 3,561 shooting incidents in 2021. The number of homicides had increased by about 60 more than was recorded in 2020, making it the most since 1996. The number of shooting incidents was greater by over 300 than the amount recorded in 2020. 

Because of the increasing commonality of gun violence in her own Chicago neighborhood, Sykes is very strategic in how she commutes to school. Skyes resides in Chicago’s Westside where many Payton students live as well. She shared that she avoids taking the bus, getting rides from others whenever she can. Walking to the bus stop is risky, especially alone, but even walking in a group isn’t safe. “Even walking with a group of people, you never know” expressed Sykes, “if you look different from everyone else in your group, you have a target on your back.” 

In 2021, Skyes lost a peer in an unforeseeable shooting. Mistaken for someone else, the peer was shot walking home from school. Skyes described the peer as a straight-A student, good athlete, and respectful individual with a bright future.  

As of Dec. 26, 2021, 415 children ages 17 and under had been shot in Chicago this year, a more than 50% increase since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. The number of children killed in these incidents stood at 57, with 16 of them being in elementary or middle school. Dozens more 18-year-olds, who were either current or recent students of Chicago high schools, were fatally shot.

The prevalence of gun violence however does not stop students from reaching their goals. Around Chicago, teens have participated in efforts small and large scale like March For Our Lives and many more to combat violence. Teens also work to create nonviolent spaces to give students opportunities to just be a kid.    

Skyes tries to keep a positive view “You can see brighter days one day and you can see darker days the next so, just keep your head up, think positive and be smart.” 

This is the introduction article to a recurring column about inner-city high school life in Chicago.

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