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8th graders get bullet-proof, stab-resistant backpack shield for graduation

For graduating eighth-graders at St. Cornelius Catholic School, a celebratory time was abruptly interrupted by a sobering gift: ballistic shields to protect them from a potential school shooter.

A day before their graduation, the 15 eighth-graders and 25 faculty members at the Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, school each received a roughly 20-ounce, bullet- and stab-resistant insert that can slide into a backpack.

The shields, which typically costs $150 each, were donated by nearby Unequal Technologies, which also makes military and athletic gear. The firm’s CEO, Rob Vito, sends his children to St. Cornelius.

Vito said St. Cornelius principal Barbara Rosini asked him to create a lightweight and kid-friendly shield for students and faculty to protect them from gun violence. A year later, his company presented 13- and 14-year-old students with the gear, which the company claims is more protective than body armor typically worn by law enforcement.

“The students thought it was cool, but it was also a somber moment as they contemplated the reality of potential gun violence in their schools, which has tragically become the ‘new’ normal,” Vito told CNN in an email.

Bulletproof backpacks and baseball bats

In the United States, about one school shooting in which someone was hurt or killed has unfolded every week this year, on average, a CNN review found. And since 2009, the US has experienced 57 times as many school shootings as six other major industrialized nations combined.

“We live in interesting times, don’t we,” Jim Caldwell, Unequal’s executive vice president, told CNN. “We, of course, never thought there would be demand like this on our radar, and now it has to be.”

Caldwell said Unequal has recently ramped up production to meet orders from around the country, but did not provide specifics on how many sales the company has made.

Besides safety shields, educators, parents and students across the country have taken varied tacks at trying to stop students from being killed on campus. Florida’s Republican governor, after the February massacre in Parkland, signed a bill that allows some teachers to be armed. Students in Louisiana can carry bulletproof backpacks after the state’s Democratic governor last week signed a bill that created an exception to the campus ban on body armor.

In Miami, Florida Christian School sells $120 ballistic panels alongside apparel on its website. And since April, an Erie, Pennsylvania, school district has armed teachers with miniature wooden baseball bats.

While Rosini told CNN affiliate WPVI it’s unlikely a shooting will happen at her school, it’s still important to protect her students. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia declined to comment.

“Anything that we can do to protect our children and our staff, that’s what we have,” Rosini said. “That’s my job, to try to protect them, and I try to do the best I can.”