Reading Buddies and the New Normal

Every Friday at lunch time for the last seven years, a team of volunteers from JCRC and CJP jump into Ubers to dash to the Condon School in South Boston. Along with a volunteer team from the law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish, they meet with the second graders they've been paired with, to spend an hour together immersed in the joy of reading.

Like the other workplace teams that JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) places in local public schools through its “Reading Buddies” program, Team JCRC/CJP has formed enduring bonds with their young friends, along with a deep admiration for the talented and hardworking teachers and administrators at the school they visit. And they marvel at the dedication of their liaison, Condon School Reading Specialist Annellen Lydon, who seems to know each and every student in this large school, and goes to great lengths to provide them with just the support they need to succeed.

A GBJCL volunteer at the Condon School

So we were all dismayed to learn that last Thursday evening, a man was fatally shot just outside the school. Due to the ongoing police investigation, children had to remain indoors during recess the next day, and a bullet and bullet hole were found in a third-grade classroom. Disturbingly, this is not the first time the Condon has been affected by the presence of firearms. The previous June, a gun was found inside a bathroom on a day when police reported nearby gunfire.

When we called to express our concern and check in with our friends, we were not surprised to learn that despite teachers and administrators being on edge, they focused on trying to make it a normal day for the students. Ms. Lydon shared, “Some of the students knew, especially the older ones. We tried to keep things normal; not sure what normal is.”

Though we felt reassured that these cherished students and community were safe, we were also reminded of the sober reality of the “new normal” in our country; where teachers, charged with the academic, emotional, and social wellbeing of their students now also have to worry about the prospect of gun violence erupting at any moment. And we were reminded that despite the understandable shock and horror we all feel in the aftermath of high profile mass shootings like Parkland, the fact remains that many more young lives are claimed through the ongoing scourge of gun violence in the streets of our cities.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about our work to prevent gun violence; both our pride in being part of a coalition to pass legislation resulting in Massachusetts having the lowest gun death rate in the country and our ongoing commitment to doing more. An important measure which would further reduce gun violence is The Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO), a bill to reduce access to guns for individuals with an elevated risk of harm to themselves or others. Last Friday’s frightening news has only deepened our commitment to pursue all actions to further decrease gun violence, and to persist until all our children are safe.

We will continue to stand with our friends and partners in South Boston and throughout Greater Boston, and to engage our Jewish community in doing so through our multiple avenues for action at JCRC. We will keep showing up at our local schools to help children discover the joy of reading and to celebrate their achievements—and we will keep showing up at the State House, to demand that guns stay out of the hands of those who would cause them harm.

I invite you to join us in our efforts. Contact Public Safety Committee Chairs Representative Naughton and Senator Michael Moore to urge passage of ERPO today. Join our GBJCL family; tutor a child weekly or for special events, donate needed books to under resourced schools. Help us build a healthy and vibrant community, one in which all of our children can flourish.