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Reducing Gun Violence, One Middle School Class at a Time

How can design help make guns uncool for teenagers? Students and faculty at Art Center College of Design, internationally recognized for its cutting-edge social impact design department, Designmatters, worked with the Los Angeles Unified School District to create a powerful new multimedia resource for middle school classrooms called Where’s Daryl?.

The winner of an Ideas That Matter award from Sappi Fine Paper North America, Where's Daryl? helps kids focus on the long-term and abstract consequences of gun violence. It asks them to imagine what happened to Daryl, a fictional middle-school student whose life has been brought to a standstill because he got involved with guns. Through eight freestanding lesson plans using imagination, humor, and narrative voices as tools, students are asked to reflect on what Daryl did, why he did what he did, what he's missing out on, and what he could've done to prevent getting involved with guns. Most importantly, the campaign empowers students to foster their own actionable language as well as to identify their trusted network of support.

Health teacher Michele Levin recently taught the Where’s Daryl? curriculum to her students at Vista Middle School in Panorama City. “This neighborhood has a lot of gun violence,” she said. “There was a shooting in the mini mall across the street, a fatality, just a few weeks ago.”

Levin’s 7th graders laughed at the video featuring the cut-out of Daryl. A 23-year teaching veteran with LAUSD, Levin said every one of her classes understands that “he’s missing out on his life, and his friends are mad because he’s not there any more—they all get it.”

Levin thinks others teachers will like it too. “It’s easy to implement,” she says. “It’s not a huge time commitment, and the resources that come with it are really nice. The kids like how things look and the teachers really like that they get everything they need.”


Working closely with LAUSD Health Education Programs, Art Center students conducted youth focus groups and consulted experts in at risk youth to develop the campaign. Together with Designmatters, Art Center alumna Maria Moon collaborated closely with teachers and curriculum experts to refine the materials for classroom use. As part of a pilot program, the Where’s Daryl? educational package, fully aligned with California state standards for health curricula, is now reaching more than a thousand students in ten middle school health classrooms across the LAUSD system.

Uncool: The Anti-Gun Violence Project is supported by the Nathan Cummings Foundation and was developed by Art Center’s Designmatters Department over the course of several academic terms. Through research, advocacy and action, the Designmatters program engages, empowers and leads an ongoing exploration of art and design.

The ‘Uncool’ initiative being piloted in Los Angeles offers a potent course of action that we hope will contribute to reducing gun violence—one middle school classroom at a time.

Image courtesy of Designmatters at Art Center College of Design

Have your own idea for a nonprofit design project? Apply for funding from Sappi's Ideas that Matter program.

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