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SANTA MONICA : Petition Drive Yields Lesson in Activism

June 18, 1995|CAROL CHASTANG

Students at PS No. 1, an elementary school in Santa Monica, received a lesson in grass-roots activism when they collected petitions urging the Santa Monica City Council to enact strict gun-control laws.

"We, the children of Santa Monica, want more and tough gun-control laws," read the petition, which was signed by 370 students from three elementary schools.

Joel Pelcyger, director of PS (Pluralistic School) No. 1, said students participate in a community service elective each year. This year, he said, teachers talked with students to find out what issues were important to them.

"We talked about [Kansas] Sen. [Robert] Dole's attempts to appeal the assault weapons ban, and the kids were outraged," said Pelcyger. One student brought in a poster of a Time magazine cover--a montage of photos of the dozens of men, women and children across the country who were killed by handguns in one week.

The students decided to draft a gun-control petition and asked other local elementary school students to sign it.

It was in calling the schools that his students received the crash course in politics, Pelcyger said.

Out of the 20 other public and private schools they contacted last month, only two--St. Anne's, a Catholic school, and Crossroads School--agreed to get involved.

"They found out some of the other schools were not as open to the idea," Pelcyger said.

Some school officials said the end of the school year is not a good time for students to become involved in such a project, because the priority is preparing for finals and graduation. Others said the students "should have your parent or teacher call, because we don't respond to children," Pelcyger said. "One school [official] said that public schools can't take on political issues like that."

But the children took the issue personally, he said.

Cody Dashiell-Earp, 10, told the council Tuesday night that "walking around the streets is a little bit scary because you don't know who has a gun."

Santa Monica Mayor Paul Rosenstein promised to redouble gun-control efforts in the city. Council members suggested methods to lobby state officials.

Pelcyger said he and his students will continue their gun-control campaign by contacting other local schools as well as the California Assn. of Independent Schools. "We want to keep the enthusiasm up, and keep children encouraged to participate in the political process," he said.

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