My biggest concerns that I wanted to address were gun control and school safety, with a particular emphasis on the implementation of policies to require school resource officers at all levels of education in the state of Virginia. Creigh Deeds’ aid, Tracy, said that he actually proposed to allocate $136 million to fund resource officers at all schools in the Commonwealth, and he also believes that there should be a state assault weapon ban as well. I had a great conversation with her about the impact that the recent Sandy Hook tragedy had on Creigh’s positions towards various issues. Steve Landes’ aide said that Steve was a 2nd amendment supporter but wasn’t sure where the balance was, because he does have a son that is in elementary school (referencing the fact that a terrible massacre happened at an elementary school).
However, his aide said that he wanted to provide school resource officers at Virginia middle and high schools, but not elementary schools for funding reasons. This was definitely an opposing view from my perspective, because I whole-heartedly believe that safety needs to be our main priority – we need to protect our children, our future generation of leaders, and if that means rearranging some things on our state’s budget, then so be it. I tried to bite my tongue, essentially, but I did let the aide know that I really felt at this point in time it is imperative that we also allocate funds for elementary school officers too, simply because Sandy Hook has shown us that tragedy can happen at that level.
I think it’s very important that JMU students, especially social worker students, participate in events like this because it submerges you in the Virginia legislature. It makes you uncomfortable at first, because you are completely out of your element, but it is so beneficial in the long run. It teaches you a lot about yourself, too. After I talked to my senator’s aide, I felt a rush of excitement. I felt like I already made a difference- maybe I didn’t, but in my mind I did and that meant a lot to me.
When Creigh’s aide found out that I was a social work student, she said this: “Oh, GREAT! That’s wonderful you’re here, because social workers suck at policy .” I didn’t know if I should be slightly offended or slightly flattered! She then went on to explain that she has seen so many situations where social workers are working so hard to help their clients against a system that is essentially against them. She really understood the magnitude of what we, as social workers, do to help our clients function to the best of their ability. Then, she thanked me for being an aspiring social worker. After this, I felt empowered. This was really the first time that I can truly say I FELT like a social worker.
Sandy Hook has had a profound impact on my life, more so than I can put into words. Even though I didn’t know those sweet children whose lives ended too soon, I feel like it is my personal responsibility to speak up for them and to advocate for other children so that something this terrible doesn’t happen again. I don’t want any other parent to have to mourn the loss of their child because of a faulty school safety system. I told my legislators that, and all I can do now is hope that they take what I said into consideration. However, I will say that it is looking good because the House recently passed a bill that will allow for school resource officers at schools and childcare centers- so we are part of the way there! Maybe it’s because of the passion I showed the aides on the issue… who knows 😉 Policy and social work are one in the same. Policies affect what we do, and if they don’t work for us, we need to stand up as a profession and advocate for change. That’s what Advocacy Day taught me… one person can make a difference!