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South Texas teachers reflect on year after Uvalde shooting, dedicate end-of-year celebration to victims

First-grade teachers and their students at JFK Elementary in Corpus Christi are showing their support for Uvalde.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — On May 24, 2022, one year ago today, 19 children and two teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The massacre shocked the community, the state, the nation, and the world, and led to calls for gun control from those who lost their loved ones.

One year later, healing has begun, but the wounds are still wide-open for those directly affected by the tragedy. 

Honoring the lives of the victims is important to those who knew them, as well as some who never had the pleasure of meeting them. Scholarships have been named in their honor. Larger-than-life murals inspired by each child and teacher fill the forever-changed community with memories of the lives lost. And school districts across the nation are hosting tributes to mark the somber occasion, including here in Corpus Christi. 

'Keep their memory alive in a positive way'

When first grade teachers at JFK Elementary in West Oso ISD learned that their field day would fall on the anniversary of the shooting, they knew they had to do something special -- from one small South Texas school district to another. 

They had shirts made for all the first graders that say "JFK Field Day 2023... Uvalde Strong." 

Credit: 3NEWS

The kids then made a heart outside of the school for a photo they could send to Uvalde, with love, from another South Texas school district. 

Credit: 3NEWS

First-grade teacher Yvelia Munoz said, as a small district, the tragedy really hit home, and it was important to her for the students and staff to show their support for those who may be struggling Wednesday, and every day since the shooting. 

"We wanted to pay tribute to Uvalde, and these maroon shirts and grey shirts show that we support them as a community here in Texas, and just to be with them during this time and keep their memory alive in a positive way," Munoz said.

'It makes us more alert'

Though the massacre sent shockwaves through entire communities, teachers were especially affected by the tragedy. After the shooting, teachers across the nation reported feeling increases in stress and anxiety.

"We are more emotional, more invested on how we protect the kids and how we handle just everyday drills that we have already monthly. We're just kind of more aware of how the students are feeling, how we're feeling and knowing that it can happen anywhere," first-grade teacher Maranda Vela said.

Teachers at JFK Elementary said while they feel protected, the tragedy is always on the back of their minds.

"I feel like us being a small district, we have always been secure and safe," Munoz said. "It just makes us more alert, and we want to make sure we protect not only our staff, but our students and our hearts, so our hearts go out with Uvalde."

"Since it has happened, we have really stepped up our security," first-grade teacher Stephanie Starry said. "I have always felt safe here, but now we are taking extra measures to keep our students safe."

With their kids being so young, around the age of 6, the teachers have to balance what the kids understand about the tragedy at Uvalde with the importance of them being aware of the seriousness of lockdown drills, and knowing what to do in the case an intruder enters their school.

3NEWS asked the teachers if the children understood what "Uvalde Strong" means.

"I think a lot of them do, yes," Vela said. "And it's just keeping them aware that it is a serious situation, if we ever have to go into lockdown they know how to behave and how to act."

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