SBHC Advocates Introduce Legislation in Senate to Reauthorize SBHC Program

October 17, 2018

SBHC Advocates Introduce Legislation in Senate to Reauthorize SBHC Program

WASHINGTON, DC (October 17, 2018) – In a bipartisan show of support for school-based health care, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have introduced legislation in Congress that amends the Public Health Service Act to reauthorize the School-Based Health Centers (SBHC) program. The bill (S.3602) would extend the School-Based Health Centers program authorization through 2023. The program’s statutory authorization expired in 2014.

In her public statement about the bill, Senator Stabenow explained,“Too many children across our state do not have access to a family doctor and depend on school-based health centers for basic care. This is an important step toward making sure children across Michigan continue to receive the care they need throughout the school day.”

Voicing her support for school-based health centers and S.3602, Senator Capito said, “In West Virginia, school health centers play an important role in providing children with access to basic health services, especially in rural communities,” Senator Capito said. “This legislation will help ensure children in West Virginia and across the country continue to have access to critical school-based services that support their health and wellbeing.”

The reauthorization of school-based health centers is a critical step forward for children. At the heart of the SBHC model is the incontestable fact that healthy students are better learners. SBHCs represent a key strategy for ensuring our children and adolescents receive high-quality primary and mental health care services in a location that’s safe, convenient, and accessible. In this critical time, SBHCs are also meeting the increased mental health needs of the lesser known victims of the national opioid epidemic – children who are affected by their parents’ or families’ struggles with addiction.


How Youth Leadership Changes the World

October 11, 2018

How Youth Leadership Changes the World

By Anna Gabriella Casalme, Alliance Board Member and former Youth Advisory Council Member

A little over three months ago, the 2018 National School-Based Health Care Convention challenged us to think about how we can promote youth leadership in our work. In the closing plenary, moderated by Nicole Carrillo (Member, School-Based Health Alliance Youth Advisory Council), we heard from young leaders: Mendell Grinter (Founder, Campaign for School Equity), Nicole Cardoza (Founder, Yoga Foster), Anna Gabriella Casalme (that’s me!), and Malaysia Jones (Terrell County Student Ambassador). In case you missed it or want a refresher, here are some of the highlights:

Defining Youth Leadership

“Leadership is about creating as many other leaders as possible. I think when you have a collective leadership in a school or community, it’s so much more powerful than one person holding all of the burden and all of the weight of creating change.” – Nicole

“When we think of leadership, we don’t think of adults going to adult leadership programs. We assume that adults are leaders and I think that the existence of the term ‘youth leadership’ is in part because we are surprised by it and I think we need to challenge our assumptions about young people and our expectations of young people.” – Anna

“When we think about youth leadership, it really is what you said at the start: participation. How are we encouraging youth to be engaged and to add voice to the landscape?” – Mendell

“Try to strive to make a better community and try to make students know that they have a voice and that they are very important in our community.” – Malaysia

Listening to Young People

“We ask students: what are key issues that you see that you want to change, that you want to fix? And we just listen. No talking, you just listen. Two, you have to have some sort of patience. I think a lot of times in a lot of our work, we have language that we use. We have buzzwords and keywords and students aren’t able to articulate the same way.” – Mendell

“I think for every student leader that we see on TV, there are thousands of them that have been told that their ideas and perspectives are not important, so the more that we can start amplifying their voices, the better…” – Nicole

“One caveat to that is listening equitably and being mindful of how we might listen to different groups of students very differently from others and how certain groups of students might be communicating their needs differently than others and we need to adjust accordingly.” – Anna

“You can’t really just say, ‘Oh let’s do this.’ You have to know what you’re doing, how you’re going to do it and who you’re going to affect in your community. It doesn’t have to be your community. It could be your state and nationwide. Basically just making it everyone, not just yourself.” – Malaysia

Engaging Youth and Sustaining Movements

“Basically, ask for what we want, build a relationship (with city leaders), and be able to speak up for it. Be able to show them that you have a reason for doing what you’re doing.” – Malaysia

“By listening very intently to these very personal stories that are already existing and already out there and giving them a larger platform… that is how I think we can continue to sustain these movements and through that sustenance, we can see some real policy reform and culture shift.” – Anna

“It’s like getting out of the way as quickly as possible. I’m always inspired. Every single time I work with a student, they tend to know so much more than I do… The more that we can empower them to raise their voice and talk from their perspective, the better and the more effective any programming can be.” – Nicole

What do we do now?

“Elect leaders. Elect them because of what they are trying to do for the community. The smallest things can make a big impact on your community. Elect leaders – that’s the top priority. Also, let teens be teens, but also teach them to be leaders.” – Malaysia

“Broadening your definition of what you can do to help students heal by asking them what they’re doing… Being together in community is healing. Playing basketball after school is healing. Having a space where people can just talk and be themselves can be a really powerful form of healing.” – Nicole

“We owe it to all of our youth, our children, to be outspoken advocates for them… I think our children need to see adults as strong advocates for them in their lives and their communities.” – Mendell

“First of all, give yourselves a pat on the back for caring as much as you do… My second action… keeping young people, if they’re not in the room, get them in the room, but if they’re not, pretending that they are, imagining what they would say and keeping them at the forefront of your mind no matter what you’re doing.” – Anna

I am immensely grateful to the many individuals who supported me throughout my youth and afforded me opportunities to grow as a leader. Besides serving on the Board of Directors of the School-Based Health Alliance, I am also the founder of Novelly, which is sparking the next generation of changemakers – one YA novel at a time. If you’re interested in bringing a youth-driven leadership program to your school-based health center, please encourage your students to start a Novelly chapter and get in touch with us!

With much gratitude for all that you do,
Anna Gabriella Casalme


Alliance Joins Child and Family Advocates Opposing Public Charge Proposal

September 28, 2018

Alliance Joins Child and Family Advocates Opposing Public Charge Proposal

WASHINGTON, DC—The School-Based Health Alliance stands with our national partners and esteemed medical associations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association in opposing the Trump administration’s proposed changes that govern public charge determination.

“Public charge” is an immigration term that refers to a person who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government to meet his or her basic needs. The Administration’s proposed new rule would significantly broaden the scope of programs considered by the government to make this determination, making it more likely that legally present immigrants could be denied a visa or green card merely for seeking health and support services, including those for which they are eligible such as Medicaid, SNAP and housing assistance.

This proposal is another example of the Trump Administration’s unrelenting assault on immigrant families, and would likely have a significant, harmful impact to the health and well-being of immigrant families including the 1 in 4 children living in an immigrant family in the United States. No family should avoid seeking services they are eligible for out of fear. The School-Based Health Alliance believes all children deserve access to quality health care and necessary support services, regardless of immigration status or income. We are committed to providing school-based health centers across the country with the support, tools and resources to make their centers welcoming and accessible to all children, as well as aggressively opposing this proposed rule via submission of formal comments.

Joint Statement on Public Charge
No Comments | Category Blog, Newsroom | Tags:

Federal School-Based Health Center Bill Gaining Bipartisan Support

September 6, 2018

Federal School-Based Health Center Bill Gaining Bipartisan Support

As schools open their doors to students for a new academic year, a growing number of supporters in Congress have joined together to sponsor legislation that authorizes a federal school-based health care program. “Even as it seems that our nation is irrevocably divided along partisan lines, an issue like the health, wellbeing, and safety of children and adolescent can unite political leaders,” said John Schlitt, president of the School-Based Health Alliance, praising the bipartisan spirit of the legislative coalition.

H.R. 5899 was introduced in May 2018 by a bipartisan group of members, including John Faso, Fred Upton, John Sarbanes and Paul Tonko.

Issues confronting young people like opioid and other illicit drug use, suicide and violence are front of mind for Congress; school-based health centers represent an important part of the solution for many communities.

“I’m helping to lead the charge on this important, bipartisan bill because I want to continue our support for our nation’s children and help them succeed in every facet of life,” said Rep. Fred Upton. “By reauthorizing the SBHC program for 2018 to 2023, I’m aiming to continue crucial services.”

“Access is the number one healthcare issue facing our community, and I’m working to fix that with common sense bills like this one,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif) in a statement about his support for H.R. 5899.

The number of bill sponsors has grown over the summer to 32, including 11 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Rodney Davis (R-IL), and David Valadao (R-CA) joined on this week.

See the Alliance’s initial statement upon the bill’s introduction.


Alliance Receives Federal Award to Lead School-Based Health Services Quality Improvement & Sustainability Initiative

August 16, 2018
School Health and Mental Health Organizations Receive 5-Year Federal Award to Lead School-Based Health Services Quality Improvement and Sustainability Initiative

WASHINGTON, DC—The School-Based Health Alliance (“The Alliance”) and the Center for School Mental Health (CSMH) were jointly awarded a cooperative agreement from the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) at the Health Resources and Services Administration to lead innovation and improvement in quality of care through school-based health services. The two organizations are eager to build on the momentum of the previous four years leading the School Health Services National Quality Initiative (NQI), and work collaboratively with their partners, including the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at George Washington University, project advisors, and school health providers from across the nation to ensure the highest quality of care for children and adolescents receiving services in schools.

The 5-year agreement will support the partnering organizations’ efforts to improve the quality of care delivered by school-based health centers (SBHCs) and comprehensive school mental health systems (CSMHSs) nationwide. The Alliance and its partners will:

  • Review and refine current national performance measures;
  • Conduct three quality improvement collaboratives of cohorts comprising SBHCs and CSHMHs (be on the lookout for partnership opportunities Spring 2019);
  • Facilitate a Community of Practice for state agencies and state-level organizations to accelerate and spread innovation and improvement in quality care, best business practices, and policies to support school health services sustainability and growth;
  • Provide technical assistance to SBHCs, CSMHSs, and schools not participating in CoIIN cohorts, encouraging adoption of CoIIN-generated strategies and innovations;
  • Integrate contemporary and emerging child and adolescent behavioral health topics, issues and conditions (e.g., adverse childhood experiences, opioid use) and emerging practices (e.g., telehealth, trauma-informed practices, restorative justice, social/emotional learning) in performance measure refinement, screening tools, implementation guidance, webinar series, and resources; and
  • Support states to effectively assess and address social determinants of health in school-based health services.

“The inequitable distribution of health and education resources across our communities has created profound and unjust disparities in outcomes for young people,” said John Schlitt, president of the Alliance. “School-based health services represent the intersection of our nation’s health and education systems. And, when organized in partnership with community systems of care, the provision of health and mental health services in schools can level the playing field for all children and adolescents by eliminating the health disparities that plague our nation’s most vulnerable students.” Dr. Sharon Hoover, CSMH Co-Director, adds “Schools are the de facto mental health system for our youth, and this effort will continue to drive forward the quality and sustainability of services and supports that address the mental health of all students.”

Opportunity for Collaboration:

In Spring 2019, the Alliance and CSMH will invite the school-based health services field to participate in the National Quality Initiative Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network (NQI CoIIN) learning collaborative. School-based health services teams, sponsors, and community and state-level organizations will have the chance to learn from one another as well as experts in the field to collectively make improvements in SBHS.

About the Partners:

The School-Based Health Alliance is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that was founded in 1995 to serve as the national voice for school-based health care. The Alliance supports the school-based health care field by providing technical assistance, resources, and trainings so they can provide the best-quality health care to their patients. In addition, the Alliance advocates for policies on the local, state, and federal level that strengthen school health, and supports its technical assistance and advocacy work—and the entire school-based health care field—through quality research and evaluation.

The Center for School Mental Health, in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is committed to enhancing understanding and supporting implementation of comprehensive school mental health policies and programs that are innovative, effective, and culturally and linguistically competent, across the development spectrum (from preschool through post-secondary), across three tiers of mental health programming (promotion, prevention, intervention).


13 SBHCs Revolutionized the Way We Think About Wellness: Here’s How

July 26, 2018

13 SBHCs Revolutionized the Way We Think About Wellness: Here’s How

By Jordanna Snyder, Hallways to Health program manager

How can wellness spill out from school-based health centers (SBHCs) into the surrounding hallways, the school staff offices, and into the community itself? What role can SBHCs play in school-wide health promotion and illness prevention?

Over the last four years, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with amazing school-based health practitioners in thirteen SBHCs in California, Georgia, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington. Through generous funding from Kaiser Permanente, the School-Based Health Alliance distributed grants to those SBHC sponsor organizations in a quest to answer those very questions. We named the initiative, Hallways to Health (H2H).

Several grantees elected to use their H2H funds to hire a dedicated coordinator or health educator, while others chose to expand the hours of existing SBHC practitioners and designate one of their own staff as project coordinator.  Our state partners at the California School-Based Health Alliance, the Georgia School-Based Health Alliance, the Maryland Assembly on School-Based Health Care, and the Oregon School-Based Health Alliance supported the H2H sites with coaching and technical assistance.

This cadre of Hallways to Health coordinators worked tirelessly to foster the systemic conditions—values, beliefs, norms, policies, practices, programs, services, and partnerships—to advance health and enable ALL children to thrive in the classroom.

By formalizing a liaison role between their SBHC and school, the coordinators discovered new ways to address student social determinants of health like food insecurity; united with principals to improve academic outcomes; partnered with teachers to introduce health education in both classrooms and staff professional development trainings; set up parent education nights and family events; and strengthened school and district health and wellness policies.

I got to know these school health leaders through site visits, on monthly calls, and in annual group gatherings where they shared ideas with one another and bonded into a creative, high-energy network. I couldn’t believe how innovative, driven, and persistent they were. They were fearlessly willing to try on new rolesthinking outside the box and outside of the traditional scope of their clinical practices. And boy, did they excel!

After four years of intense H2H work across the sites, we witnessed major increases in the number of SBHC staff, school administrators, teachers, and students involved in school-wide health efforts. We also saw H2H champions craft sustainable programs and policies in areas like student social and emotional health, healthy eating, and active living. We even watched programs transform the health habits of school staff as well.

This year, we’ve reached hundreds of other SBHCs by traveling the country and spreading the Hallways to Health gospel—that SBHCs can be catalysts for broad, school-wide wellness—via in-person and virtual trainings. More SBHCs are now motivated to start their own H2H-style programs than ever before.

The collective work of our H2H sites has been catalogued in a brand new toolkit, “Creating a School-Wide Culture of Wellness.” It contains everything you need to know to hit the ground running.

This toolkit synthesizes Hallways to Health work into the key steps it took coordinators to plan, grow, and sustain their school-wide wellness efforts. In each section, you’ll find best practices, helpful tips, stories, video interviews, and sample tools.

I can’t thank our thirteen H2H sites enough for letting us share their journeys with the broader school-based health care field, and I can’t wait for you to check out what they’ve been able to do!

Visit the Hallways to Health Toolkit

Visit our webinar archive to view a four-part webinar series that introduces each section of the toolkit.


School-Based Health Alliance Urges Trump Administration to End Policy of Separating Families at U.S. Border

June 19, 2018

School-Based Health Alliance Urges Trump Administration to End Policy of Separating Families at U.S. Border

Washington, DC—The School-Based Health Alliance issued the following statement today on the current crisis of family separation at the U.S. border: 

“The situation at the border is a moral crisis. It is also a public health disaster.

Over the past several months, the federal government has forcibly separated thousands of young children from their parents and adult caregivers at the US-Mexico border as part of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. This includes families who legally present themselves at an official border crossing to seek asylum in the U.S.  President Trump asserts repeatedly that he is not responsible for this policy and is unable to fix it, citing a law passed by Congressional Democrats. The news media and policy experts have refuted both claims. What is true is that this Administration is using children as leverage to advance its immigration agenda.

Separating children from their adult caregivers as a government policy is cruel, inhumane and immoral. It is also reckless and disastrous policy for children’s mental health and well-being.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, pediatrician and President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recently visited a detention center in Texas that houses migrant children separated from their parents. She noted that while basic needs such as food, shelter, and diaper changes were being met, workers at the center were instructed not to pick up or touch the children.

Imagine you are a young child who has recently made the arduous and uncertain journey from your home country to the U.S. border, likely fleeing due to traumatic conditions and violence, only to be forcibly separated from the only sense of comfort and security you know. You are in a foreign place, you don’t speak the language, you don’t know if you will ever see your parents again and there is no adult who is allowed to physically comfort you.

We don’t have to imagine what the lifelong impact of this kind of trauma might be: public health research tells us. The prolonged stress of being held in detention without the protective buffering of a parent or caring adult relationship can lead to a toxic stress response in children. Toxic stress disrupts brain and organ development, significantly increasing the risk for physical and behavioral health problems into adulthood, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. And then there are the long term impacts that are less measurable: a child’s sense of justice, of right and wrong, and their ability to trust.

Immigration policy is complicated. Meeting the basic mental health needs of children is not. It is unspeakably cruel to sacrifice the latter as a political strategy to advance the former.”

The School-Based Health Alliance stands with our national partners, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the American Psychological Association and others in aggressively opposing the separation of families at the border. We urge the Trump Administration to end this unnecessary and harmful policy.

For more information, please contact Senior Policy and Program Manager Suzanne Mackey.


Announcing Our 2018 Award Winners

May 24, 2018

Announcing Our 2018 Award Winners

By John Schlitt, President

Each year for nearly two decades, the School-Based Health Alliance has recognized luminaries in the school-based health care field with a Lifetime Achievement award. During the national convention we honor select individuals and institutions who have demonstrated a strong commitment to the mission of school-based health care. We celebrate leaders who embody the spirit of innovation, dedication, and collaboration, who go above and beyond to manifest the vision of quality school-based health care for all young people. And while we’re pleased to honor that tradition once again in 2018, we’ve complemented the veteran award with a Rising Star tribute to individuals early-to-mid-level in their careers who are actively solving pressing issues in school-based health care.

First, the lifetime achievement award, and because I’ve been privileged to work with so many extraordinary individuals, it often feels deeply personal. This one’s no exception.

It’s been my great pleasure to have known and worked with Dr. Veda Johnson for over 20 years to expand and promote school-based health centers nation-wide as a proven model of healthcare for at-risk and underserved youth. A pediatrician and school-based health care pioneer, Dr. Veda Johnson’s tireless advocacy and enduring vision have changed the face of pediatric care in Atlanta, across the state of Georgia, and nationwide. Dr. Johnson is a leading authority on school-based health care models. She has spent her entire career pushing health care out of the medical complex and into neighborhoods and schools so that all children, no matter their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or zip code, have limitless opportunities to thrive.

Over the past two decades Dr. Johnson has served on the School-Based Health Alliance Board of Directors, been a welcome presence as faculty at our national conventions, and, at our behest, periodically testified before Congress about the school-based health care model. Dr. Johnson currently serves as the Alliance’s liaison to the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health where she is establishing a framework for collaboration between the two organizations.

Her many outstanding contributions to the growth and sustainability of school-based health centers span academic, research, education, training, philanthropy and advocacy realms.

Our 2018 Rising Star is Amanda Forsmark, a health educator with Great Lakes Bay Health Centers, who’s been a part of the Saginaw High School-Based Health Center in Michigan since 2011.  During her time there, she has established a state-recognized Teen Advisory Council (TAC) that is financially self-sustaining, runs a variety of innovative programs for youth peers, and has won several state-wide and national awards for their work.  Some of their programs include: state and national advocacy projects related to health care for teens; a “Respect Campaign” that resulted in lowering bullying rates at Saginaw High School; “REAL TALK” annual youth symposium to educate young people about healthy sexual choices; and an “I’m Healthy and I Know It – I Work Out!” program that fosters healthy eating and exercise after school hours.

Amanda “loves to work with young people and to see her students create positive change in their community.”  Her infectious smile and calm, “can-do” attitude make her a joy to be around, and her peers, school/community partners, and the young people she works with all rave about her passion, competence, reliability, creativity, and dedication to the SBHC and TAC models.

Congratulations to Veda and Amanda! We’ll see you in Indianapolis.


Legislation Introduced in Congress to Reauthorize SBHC Program

May 22, 2018

Legislation Introduced in Congress to Reauthorize SBHC Program

Today, a bipartisan group from the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation to reauthorize the School-Based Health Centers (SBHC) program. House members John Faso (R-NY), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Fred Upton (R-MI) and John Sarbanes (D-MD) sponsored H.R. 5899 to extend the School-Based Health Centers program authorization through 2023. The program’s statutory authorization expired in 2014.

In his public statement about the bill, Congressman Faso recognized that “the reauthorization is long overdue.” “New York has the largest statewide network of SBHCs in the country and they are increasingly important in rural Upstate communities.” These health providers fill geographic service gaps and ensure that students are receiving necessary care, such as preventative check-ups, dental services, and mental health services. I am glad we have a bipartisan coalition that recognizes the importance of SBHCs.”

“School-based health centers are a critical source of healthcare for students including those with struggling mental health challenges or substance use disorders,” said Congressman Tonko. “In the midst of our nation’s opioid epidemic, these centers have become even more important, especially in communities where there is limited access to substance use and mental health care. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in a bipartisan basis to support this important measure that serves students and families across Upstate New York.”

“My home state of Michigan has 121 school-based health centers,” said Congressman Upton. “These health care providers fill a critical need for our kids including mental health services. I’m glad to join this bipartisan coalition supporting this reauthorization to ensure school-based health centers continue to help our kids succeed in every facet of life.”

“Thousands of children across the country depend on school-based health centers to deliver primary care, mental health services and dental treatment,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “This bipartisan effort will ensure that school-based health centers have the resources they need to keep our children healthy and help them succeed in the classroom.”

The reauthorization of school-based health centers is a critical step forward for children. At the heart of the SBHC model is the incontestable fact that healthy students are better learners. SBHCs represent a key strategy for ensuring our children and adolescents receive high-quality primary and mental health care services in a location that’s safe, convenient, and accessible. In this critical time, SBHCs are also meeting the increased mental health needs of the lesser known victims of the national opioid epidemic – children who are affected by their parents’ or families’ struggles with addiction.


Marching for Our Lives: Because High School Is Stressful Enough

April 18, 2018

Marching for Our Lives:
Because High School Is Stressful Enough

By Anna Burns, Manager, Communications and Public Policy

Saturday, March 24 was an extraordinarily beautiful Saturday in the District. I stayed up late the night before, crafting witty, heartfelt March for Our Lives posters with some girlfriends. I was tired, certainly, but more than anything, I was excited. It’s time for another history-making rally.

As I arrived at the march, camera dangling from my neck and phone in hand, I scanned the crowd. (And when I say crowd, I mean crowd in the truest sense of the word.) Here’s what I saw: people from every walk of life, every skin tone, and every gender exuding a sense of hope and togetherness.

On one corner there’s a small child holding up a poster larger than himself: “Am I worth more than a gun to you?”

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded my city today in response to the recent tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The senseless violence of students being killed in the midst of a school day traumatizes all of us and has had repercussions throughout our country and around the world. Those students have been utterly devastated by the loss of their classmates, teachers, and friends, but they refuse to be silent. Weeks of activism have culminated in this march. Outside of DC, 1.7 million people orchestrated 752 marches around the nation; 104 marches took place around the world.

Why am I here? I haven’t been directly affected by gun violence, fortunately. But what did one commentator say on CNN this morning? That until you’re personally touched personally by violence, you just don’t feel it? That may be true for many people. But for me, I’m here because of a gut feeling of right from wrong. No parent should have to bury their own child. No child should ever have to attend the funeral of their teachers or friends. Children shouldn’t be afraid to go to school. Period.

And then there’s my professional work. As communications and public policy manager for the School-Based Health Alliance, I dedicate hours each day to redefining health for kids and teens, especially in a place that should be a safe access point for support, health care, and compassion—their school. As a children’s health advocate, I can’t just “talk the talk”. I must walk the walk. In this case, that walk brings me down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Parkland tragedy is part of a painful narrative of violence in our country which has claimed the lives of people young and old, students in school, and music-lovers at a concert; people going about their daily lives, people who left home in the morning fully expecting to safely return after school or work or a fun evening out. Except that again and again, chaos and killing interrupts these activities—without warning, purpose, limits, or mercy.

Gun violence claims around 96 American lives each day. Seven of these lives are young people. Guns lead to more deaths than the next 12 leading causes of teen death combined. A staggering 187,000 children in the U.S. have been directly involved in mass school shootings. And while black students make up 16.6 percent of the school-age population, they experience school shootings at twice the rate of their white peers.

Gun violence threatens the lives of children each and every day in a variety of settings—not just in schools. Millions of kids from inner cities live in constant fear of gun violence—a stressful assault on their developing minds and bodies. March for Our Lives speaker Zion Kelly, from Washington, DC, spoke to the crowd about losing his twin brother last fall when an armed robber shot and killed him. Edna Chavez, from South Central LA, described her pain as she watched someone shoot and kill her brother in their neighborhood. For her, gun violence is a normal part of her life. She learned to dodge bullets before she even learned to read.

The crowd pulsates with fervor and passion and fills me with optimism and pride. Pride for the teens who are forgoing teenage rites of passage—prom dress shopping, the anxiety of their upcoming college careers—and instead hosting town halls and meeting with elected officials to fight for their right to be safe.

They are letting adults know—with great passion, courage, savvy, and strength—that we are failing them. Their voices are raw and shrewd, unrefined and clear, strong and innocent. They reject policymakers’ “thoughts and prayers”. Words aren’t enough. They demand action. Their lived experiences are incomprehensible to many adults—myself included. My school never had active shooter drills, which are now commonplace at every school in America. Kids learn how to hide in supply closets and underneath desks to shield themselves from death.

The afternoon stretches on into evening. The sidewalks fill up with the usual rally detritus: discarded posters, stickers, and flyers. I take a look at the signs:

  • “When I said I’d rather die than go to chemistry, it was hyperbole.”
  • “We walk in their shoes because they can’t.”
  • “High school is stressful enough without more guns.”
  • “18 in November.”
  • “Mental illness is global. Mass shootings are American.”

As the crowd disperses to their own corners of the world, we ask ourselves: Where do we go from here? How do we leverage the momentum of today’s events so that Congress acts with meaningful legislation aimed at preventing gun violence in schools and communities, and not piecemeal stopgap measures meant to placate students?

Join millions of advocates demanding transformative change. Only with a legion of voices, in public debates and via subsequent ballot-box repercussions, can we make our schools safe again. Gun violence? #NeverAgain.