For Many Urban Schools, Gun Violence Remains A Daily Reality One year after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., the issue of gun violence continues to resonate around the country. In some communities, like the Castlemont neighborhood in Oakland, Calif., some young people try to cope with the threat of daily violence by simply trying to tune it out.

For Many Urban Schools, Gun Violence Remains A Daily Reality

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Oakland, California was also the scene of a mass shooting last year and parts of that city are almost accustomed to gun violence; so are its children. Youth Radio's Denise Tejada reports on how young people in one Oakland neighborhood are coping.

DENISE TEJADA, BYLINE: Castlemont High looks like any other school but inside, teacher Demetria Huntsman and 16-year-old Joseph Hopkins are deconstructing a shooting that happened out front just 30 minutes before I got there.

I wanted to find out from you guys, while we was locked down that happened today.

DEMETRIA HUNTSMAN: There was gunshots.

JOSEPH HOPKINS: We just, like, heard gunshots and so then she dropped her stuff and I just - we just both turned around and just started running. And, like, that's the closest I've ever came to almost, like, actually getting shot.

TEJADA: This afterschool group, Youth Alive, is one of many violence prevention programs serving the neighborhood. And the violence is daunting. Between March and October of this year, there was an average of three shootings a day within a mile and a half of Castlemont High, including one where bullets came through the front door. Trevor Watson is a 14-year-old student.

TREVOR WATSON: If I can wake up one day, walk outside, with the possibility of being shot at any point in time, that's kind of nerve-racking, every day to do.

HUNTSMAN: So you bring up a really good point, Trevor, because you feel that a school at 3:30 in daylight, just the thought of maybe that's not a safe place, that's a real difficult reality.

WATSON: You can be at the most safest place that you think and then some type of violence busts out.

TEJADA: In spite of the violence, kids we talked to say Castlemont High is one of the few places they feel safe, in part because of programs designed to help students cope with regular shootings, maybe even prevent them.

ALEX BRISCOE: It's up to adults and professionals to help them understand and process it and respond to it appropriately, so it can be a tool for learning and growth.

TEJADA: Alex Briscoe is the director of Alameda County Health Care Services. In the Castlemont neighborhood, according to county reports, homicide is the leading cause of death for young people.

BRISCOE: We can tell you how long you're going to live by what zip code you live in.

TEJADA: Briscoe says, the life expectancy for residents in this area is 10 years shorter than that of people living in the upscale Oakland Hills just over a mile away.


TEJADA: On a chilly Saturday morning, about 20 kids ranging from toddlers to teens run, climb and squeal at a playground next to Castlemont High while three security guards in bright yellow shirts look on. In April there was a shooting nearby and 6-year-old Paolo had to take cover.

PAOLO: I was scared.

TEJADA: What did you do?

PAOLO: I had to go inside the building.

TEJADA: Paolo's mom, Stephanie Pepitone, is the organizer of the play group. She says she's dedicated to the neighborhood and wants to stay. But the shooting was a wake-up call for her family.

STEPHANIE PEPITONE: In the same way that we all teach our children about fire safety, to 'stop, drop and roll', it was the first time that we realized we had to do the same type of safety training for our son with regards to what happens when you hear gunshots.


TEJADA: Sitting on the steps in front of his apartment, 14-year-old Trevor Watson says the popping sounds of gunfire sometimes keep him up at night. To deal with it, he tries to ignore it.

WATSON: I see stuff like that so often it doesn't even affect me anymore.

TEJADA: But that stoic facade drops when a kid walks into the courtyard in front of Watson's apartment. He's holding something under his shirt. Watson leans in and whispers into my producer's microphone.

WATSON: Got a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Did you say the kid had a gun?

WATSON: Most likely he has a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Why do you say that?

WATSON: Pretty much he just walked out of the house and he - I thought he was pulling up his pants at first. But then when he walked past, I seen he had, like, a handle in his hand.

TEJADA: Even if you want to, you can't afford to ignore guns here. Just two hours after we left, seven men were shot just blocks from Watson's house. No arrests have been made. For NPR News, I'm Denise Tejada.

CORNISH: Our story was produced by Youth Radio.

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