April Is A Cruel Month For This Columbine Teacher And Survivor Paula Reed remembers walking out into the sunshine of a beautiful day when kids ran by yelling, "They've got guns."
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April Is A Cruel Month For This Columbine Teacher And Survivor

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April Is A Cruel Month For This Columbine Teacher And Survivor

April Is A Cruel Month For This Columbine Teacher And Survivor

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Students across the country walked out of school yesterday to demonstrate against gun violence. The national school walkout also marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre outside of Denver. Paula Reed was teaching at Columbine that day. She teaches there today and joins us now from Lakewood, Colo. Thanks very much for being with us.

PAULA REED: Thank you.

SIMON: What is this time of year like for you?

REED: Boy, there have been times it's been very hard, times it's been shockingly easy. This particular anniversary has been absolutely brutal. Obviously, Parkland hit the news, and so it's just been at the forefront of everything.

SIMON: Is that what happens when there's a school shooting these days? You find yourself engulfed by it all over again?

REED: Sometimes, I feel engulfed. And sometimes, I don't. A colleague and I did go out to Sandy Hook six weeks after the shootings there and meet face-to-face with those teachers. I'm on a Facebook page called The Rebels Project, which is specifically for mass shooting survivors. And those of us who are further down this road do the best we can to offer hope to people who are just coming onto it.

SIMON: You mentioned being further down the road. Help us understand what that 19-year-long road has been like for you. How do you think you've been changed?

REED: I have come to absolutely live with the knowledge that I can die 15 minutes from now. I don't leave things undone that are going to be a huge problem if I don't come home from school that day. I'm not afraid to go places. But I'm aware of where the exits are. You know, so things like that.

SIMON: Do I get this right? You teachers agreed to stay at Columbine High School for three years so you could see the youngsters who were freshmen then graduate. And I have read you needed a break and wrote romance novels?

REED: Yes. I wrote and had three novels published. The romance genre is particularly helpful. It meant that everything had a happy ending. It meant that good guys got their rewards, and bad guys got their just desserts. And I was in control of it all at a point in my life where I felt like I was in control of absolutely nothing. So it was hugely helpful to take those two years off.

SIMON: Do the students at Columbine today ask you about what happened 19 years ago?

REED: Yes. In fact, my ninth graders just finished reading the book Columbine by Dave Cullen.

SIMON: Yeah.

REED: And they like the chance to talk about it because I think, sometimes, kids think that this is this unspeakable thing, that they shouldn't bring it up with us. And so to have the teachers bring it up first - it breaks the ice. I mean, it is their school. And they are understandably curious.

SIMON: I mean, they must - if they go for spring vacation somewhere and say where they go to high school, people must recognize the name.

REED: They do. And they get funny questions. I cannot tell you how many students have told me that that people who do not go to Columbine ask them if the school is haunted. Are there still bullet holes anywhere? So yeah, it's - I mean, it's part of their lives.

SIMON: How do you feel? How do you deal with having to be a constant repository of information about what happened on a dark day 19 years ago?

REED: I generally discourage people by - when they say, where do you teach? I say I teach at Columbine. And I've been there 30 years. And, oh, my gosh. It's an awesome school. And let me tell you about the class I teach. And I just run right through it. Every now and then, people are dumb. And they want to try to tell me what happened to me. And they want to tell me all about how they know what a terrible school it was. And all the bullies and yada, yada. And sometimes, I set them straight. And sometimes I shut them down hard and cold and walk away because I'm really tired of that.

SIMON: There have been so many extraordinary displays by students and communities, especially following what happened at Parkland. How does that make you feel?

REED: I think it's awesome that the kids are doing it. But I'll tell you something. I had this moment of clarity that the pressure on us at that point in time was that our students were supposed to end bullying everywhere because people were under the very mistaken impression that bullying was what had caused what happened to us. And so, you know, that was the rallying cry. It wasn't gun control. It was anti-bullying. And there was this tremendous pressure on our students to be spokespeople. And the kids were traumatized. And they didn't need that.

And so last night, I was in an auditorium with 40 Parkland kids and teachers at Columbine who either were teachers during the shootings or had been students during the shootings and are teachers at Columbine now to talk to the kids about what this journey looks like. And there were some other kids that weren't from Parkland. And one of them said, you know, you've got to fight for this. And you've got to make sure that we get these changes in gun control.

And I'm looking at 40 traumatized kids. And I actually did break in and said, you know what? You don't have to do anything. If you feel moved to be an activist, then be an activist. And if you do not feel moved, then do not do it. You are under no obligation. And it makes me mad because we should not be putting this on children. Adults need to step up. We need to stop being cowards. And we need to wade into the water and take care of it. This should not be on our children.

SIMON: Paula Reed still teaches at Columbine High School. Thanks so much.

REED: Thank you.

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