One year ago, as people were looking forward to the upcoming Spring Break, the unimaginable happened on the edge of the East High School campus. A little before 3:00 on the afternoon of Monday, March 7 a drive-by shooting left a former student dead and two students seriously wounded.
In the days and weeks that followed, an outpouring of support from around the community and across the state was shown for the victims along with everyone at East. While classes were canceled for the remainder of that week, students and staff still gathered at school for counseling and activities and each other’s company. The hashtag #ScarletStrong was used and viewed thousands of times with messages of hope on social media. Red clothing was worn in a sign of unity.
A year later, Scarlet Strong is more than a just couple of words, it defines the sense of unity around this Eastside institution. That is why East High is marking Scarlet Strong Week with a series of events and activities for students and the community alike. East and DMPS leaders gathered to kick off the week’s events.
“We come back today, and we are here to celebrate the strength of this community, the strength of our school, and that’s what this week is really about,” East High School Principal Jill Versteeg said.
“One year ago, we were here wrapping our arms around each other after a tragic event,” noted interim Superintendent Matt Smith. “And one year later we are here wrapping our arms around each other to celebrate life and the spirit of East High School.”
Events planned for the week include:
- MONDAY: More than 130 students were honored with Scarlet Strong awards “in recognition of their dedication to East High School and passion for living their life ‘for the service of humanity.’”
- TUESDAY: The school hosted an Eastside Community Night with events including a community art project, SEL and mental health session, food trucks, a community resource fair, and an orchestra concert.
- WEDNESDAY: 8thgraders from Hiatt and Hoyt middle schools joined the East High School choir in concert.
- THURSDAY: Students and staff hold a day of service with activities ranging from making bags for the food pantry to cleaning and beautifying the campus.
- FRIDAY: The week concludes with a student-staff basketball game and recognition of the school’s Unified Champions basketball team.
Madeline Cano, the community school coordinator at East, helped to coordinate the week. She said students were asked what Scarlet Strong means to them.
“Scarlets are inclusive, Scarlets are unique, Scarlets are loyal, Scarlets serve their community, and Scarlets are proud, so each day we are celebrating one of those traits,” said Cano.
“There are so many amazing things about this school that speak to the students, the staff, the teachers and the leadership,” added Teree Caldwell-Johnson, chair of the Des Moines School Board. “I can’t thank principal Versteeg enough for the sense of place and belonging that she has provided for the students of East High but also the strength of character that she’s shown in leading this school over the course of the last year. Scarlett strong has always been here.”
Both Caldwell-Johnson and Smith pointed to the fact that gun violence is a societal crisis that can impact schools but also all parts of a community.
“Gun violence is still prevalent in our community. It is prevalent in our state, it is prevalent in our country,” added Smith. “It’s going to take all of us at every level to solve this problem.”
To enjoy photos from the Eastside community night event please view the slideshow below. To view a video of the comments by school and district leaders quoted in the story please view the video to the upper right.