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Checking in with a Uvalde teacher one year after the mass shooting

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This week marks the end of the school year in Uvalde, Texas, and tomorrow marks one year since the deadly mass shooting that changed the community forever. A gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, devastating families and thrusting survivors into grief and uncertainty.

NICOLE OGBURN: I wasn't sure I was going to come back as a teacher.

SUMMERS: That's Nicole Ogburn, who helped her students escape Robb Elementary through a bullet-shattered window. She knew some of the children who were killed, and she was very close with the teachers killed as well, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles. She ultimately did decide to return as a teacher at a repurposed school campus newly dubbed Uvalde Elementary. I spoke with her in her classroom last August, a week before the school year began.

OGBURN: My first thing this year - it's really sad - is I usually look for cutesy stuff for my classroom. My first thing was safety stuff for my classroom.

SUMMERS: I spoke with Nicole Ogburn again today as she reflected on how she, her students and her colleagues have gotten through this year.

Nicole, I've been thinking about you and your students a lot over the course of this year. How are you doing?

OGBURN: I'm doing OK. It's been a - like a roller coaster this year of ups and downs. There's good days, and it seems like sometimes there's a lot more bad days for myself and my other friends that I teach with and some of the kids - not all of the kids but some of them.

SUMMERS: What's made it hard for some of the kids that are in your classroom?

OGBURN: Having to start back up with, like, the drills - lockdown, secure. We had hazard drills this year. And sometimes those kids just - that's a trigger for them. And then, of course, we did have a couple of actual - not lockdowns, luckily, but secure in place because of chases that would happen through town. And those really caught the kids off guard.

SUMMERS: How did you help people stay calm in those moments?

OGBURN: It was hard because I was trying to keep myself calm a couple of times. But, you know, I just kept reassuring them we're safer than we've ever been.

SUMMERS: One of the other things you also told us when we were in your classroom in August was about some of the new items that you'd bought for your classroom, like curtains to block the windows from outside view, a tool to help block the door in case of some sort of an intrusion or danger. Was there ever a moment this year where you felt like you needed to use those tools?

OGBURN: We did have a curtain on the door - the window to the door that comes into my classroom. And I used it a couple of times with the secure drills just because I didn't want the kids to see, like, something, like, that kind of made them a little more anxious. But what went through my mind this year a lot was, OK, even though I have these things, what can I use to, like, bear even, like, more - like, push up against the door? A lot of that stuff went through my head all year long. OK, if this happens or if that happens, what can we do just to maybe give us a little more time if something was to happen?

SUMMERS: It's now been a year. What is Uvalde like now? How did the shooting and everything that's happened since - how did it change your community?

OGBURN: It changed us a lot. I was born and raised here, and I always thought we were a pretty tight-knit community. Then all of a sudden, it just kind of - things happened, and there was lots of controversy in town. And in my mind, I'm like, something positive has to come out of this - something.

SUMMERS: When you talk about wanting something positive to come from this horrific tragedy, do you have an idea of what that might look like for you?

OGBURN: I'm not sure what it looks like. I just think - I mean, like, I want the children and I want Eva and Irma to be honored in a way that would make them proud. And I just want them to be honored and remembered for the good things and not remembered just for being, like, a mass shooting victim.

SUMMERS: Since the shooting that day, there have unfortunately been countless more at outlet malls, banks, birthday parties, other schools. And it's heartbreaking, but how do you handle that? What is it like for you hearing reports of more shootings across this country, more people who lose their lives and have their communities torn apart?

OGBURN: It's almost like you relive it every time another one happens. And I feel anxious. I feel angry at times. Like, why is this still happening? And that's sad that we can't just go somewhere publicly and be safe because you never know what might happen.

SUMMERS: Yeah. I have to imagine that, for a lot of teachers and school staff and even kids who went back into schools just like you did - that they spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about a tragedy like this happening to them. What would you say to them, people who fear this kind of violence coming to their community, to their classroom?

OGBURN: One of the things I've tried to say is we - yes, we need to be cautious about your surroundings and everything around you. But also, don't let the fear of something like this happening keep you from doing the things that you love to do and that you enjoy to do. The one thing I've constantly told my kids and I even have to tell myself is, I can't live in the fear of this happening again because it's going to keep me and my kids from doing things that they love and accomplish things that they should be accomplishing right now in life and not let it hold you back.

SUMMERS: That's Nicole Ogburn, fourth grade teacher at Uvalde Elementary. Thank you so much for talking to us, and take care.

OGBURN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.