Local students joined a nationwide movement of tens of thousands of young people Wednesday to protest what they call U.S. Congress’ inaction in response to the violence plaguing schools and communities.
At both Miami Trace High School and Washington C.H. High School, students held solemn events to honor the memories of the 17 killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As part of the #ENOUGH National School Walkout planned for Wednesday, students across the country and beyond were urged to leave class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes — one minute for each of the dead in Florida.
The assembly held at Miami Trace High School auditorium was not political in nature and included a celebration of life, a moment of silence and a call to action. Over 200 students participated in the program, which was voluntary.
Senior students Dylan Page, Jacklynn Wisecup, Erica Marshall, Matthew Fender and Jordan Bernard organized the entirely student-led event. Following the Florida shooting, this group of students approached MTHS Principal Rob Enochs about a plan to participate in this nationwide movement. Enochs and Miami Trace Superintendent David Lewis agreed to allow the students to express themselves in a respectful, non-political manner.
Following an opening invocation by Jacklynn Wisecup, she asked those in attendance to remain silent as she read the names of all 17 victims while a slideshow displayed their photos and tributes to their lives. The victims were: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Chris Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.
In her address to her fellow students, Wisecup said the purpose of the assembly was for these young adults to come together and unite, and to show that they were both aware and concerned.
“If you were to view our generation as a fire, our flame is overlooked,” she said. “It only takes a single spark to start a wildfire and here today, and all across the country, students just like you and I are feeding that flame. By joining in on the ‘enough movement’ we are refusing to be ignored, we are making those with the power to change feel the heat. As teenagers our thoughts and opinions are often overlooked by adults who see us as naive and inexperienced when it comes to the ‘real world.’ However, the truth is that the generations ahead of us did not live in a world where such violence was so common in schools, so we can’t really fault them for their inability to understand something they never had to experience, but something must be done.”
Wisecup and the other students involved in the presentation said that as a student body, Miami Trace is fortunate to have a solid safety plan in place. They thanked Jack Anders, the district student safety & attendance coordinator; Fayette County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Monty Coe, the district resource & D.A.R.E. officer; MTHS Principal Rob Enochs; and Miami Trace Superintendent David Lewis for helping to ensure a safe learning environment.
Erica Marshall spoke about the important role students can play in leading a movement for change.
“Today, March 14, 2018, exactly one month after the Florida mass shooting, over 2,000 schools in America are participating in the ENOUGH National School Walkout in an effort to call out violence, including gun violence within schools,” Marshall said. “This protest is not going against schools, but is being used as a way for students to create a voice we believe should be heard. Student involvement in political and social issues is crucial in order for change to occur. A student with a voice could move mountains, a student with a voice could inspire others.”
Marshall highlighted what the Miami Trace administration is doing to create easier ways for students to report suspicious behavior. Flyers for the “Safe Schools Hotline” are posted in different places throughout the school with the number posted on the bottom. This hotline is also now a text app students can use if they feel uncomfortable with face-to-face interactions.
“The STOP IT App is being created as a way for students to directly report suspicious activities not only on school grounds, but also on social media,” Marshall said. “Something as little as a rumor you heard in the bathroom or a note you found on the floor next to your locker could be the difference between life or death.”
Marshall concluded her thoughtful speech by telling her fellow classmates: “Today, we commemorate the 17 beautiful souls lost exactly one month ago. Today, we create a voice for millions of students across the country on issues we have no power to change yet. Today, we become more aware of our schools’ policies and issues to create a safer environment for our future generations. Today, our demonstration was necessary in order for change to come. Today for everyday. Thank you.”
During the final speech of the morning by Dylan Page, lawmakers were urged to take action concerning the problem of violence in schools.
“Let me be very clear. We are not here today to demand that lawmakers enact a gun ban. Rather, we are here to demand that they fulfill their duty to protect and defend the people of the United States of America by enacting common sense legislation to curb violence in schools and society,” Page said. “What the students, teachers, administrators and families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas School District went through is something no one should have to witness in our great nation, but it is sad to think that Generation Z and Alpha could be clustered into one generation — Generation Columbine — because students born in the 21st century have never known a world without school shootings. There have been over 200 school shootings since Columbine with Stoneman Douglas making it 208. Twenty-five of the 208 ended with fatalities. And over 230 innocent lives have been taken in the United States since the Columbine massacre. When will it be time for our lawmakers to sit down and pass common sense protections for us, our teachers and our community? We say now.”
Page also commended the Miami Trace school district for committing over $300,000 to make the schools more safe and secure. He also asked why every school in America doesn’t have a school resource and safety officer like Miami Trace does.
“One answer, federal funding. The federal government must step up and provide states with the funding and capabilities needed to curb this violence,” Page said. “For we cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot expect one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of a bullet to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Nationally, our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. Today, we must make it our top priority to save these lives.”
Washington High School students were presented with a few different ways to participate in the “Walk Out” event, including the chance to go outside and stand for 17 minutes to honor the slain students in Parkland, Fla.
Many of the students felt called by the tragedy and approached the administration with a desire to engage in the movement in a positive and constructive manner. Washington Court House City Schools administration said it believes in its students and will support their right to let their voices be heard. With the safety and well-being of every Blue Lion being a top priority, several options were provided for students to participate in the national movement while remaining as safe as possible. These included writing a letter or e-mail to state legislatures, signing banners that will be sent to Stoneman Douglas High School, communicating their concerns and/or ideas via social media, or even choosing to sit quietly in remembrance.
Engaging in the National School Walk-Up program was also an option. The Walk-Up program, according to Washington City Schools, is an encouragement to students to “Walk up.”
“Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite her to sit with you,” signs that were posted throughout the high school Wednesday said. “Walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner, smile and say, ‘Hi.’ Walk up to the kid who may be disruptive in class and ask him how he’s doing. Walk up to teachers and school staff and say, ‘Thank you.’ Walk up to someone who has different views than you and get to know him/her. Walk up to 14 students and two teachers and say something kind. Honor the lives of those lost by walking up, not out.”
Brooklynn Stanley, a Washington High School sophomore, was the student who led the efforts and acted as liaison between administration and the student body. Additionally, she led the conversation on how to become involved in a way that was both educational and impactful, while staying safe.
“I think it’s extremely cool that kids in a small town like Washington Court House were able to make change happen today and it shows that anybody anywhere can make change happen, it’s just about taking the initiative,” Stanley said. “I was very proud to be a Blue Lion today. I feel that the school very much empowered their students today because they encouraged our voices to be heard and allowed us to have that freedom, which really made a positive impact on the students.”
Cori Shaw, an English teacher at the high school, found out from two teachers at Stoneman Douglas that they wished for banners or signs signed from students, as opposed to individual letters, be sent to the school. She presented the idea to Washington High School Principal Tracey Rose. The banners were made by art students with the school logo and “Blue Lions” on them. Each class had the opportunity to write a note, draw an uplifting picture, or simply sign their name in support. These banners will be mailed, as requested by the Stoneman Douglas teachers, to the Parkland school to show support from the Blue Lions.
“The important thing about today, and what I’m very proud of our school for, is that students came to us and initiated the conversation about this movement,” Rose said. “We want them to have a voice. They were willing to come up with ideas to express that voice. I know that our students feel supported and I thank our staff for taking the time to support them. I’d like the Walk Up to be something that becomes regular around Washington High School and based on what I saw today on how our student body came together, I’m very hopeful that will continue to carry on within our culture in the Blue Lion Nation. We’re on the right path to make this a very unique and very special place. To be able to be a student 30 years ago and to help facilitate something this big and a movement this powerful with students in the same community I grew up in, instills a sense of pride that I don’t know that I can articulate. If you’re ever looking for a reason to go to work, I found one of those reasons today.”
The information about the Washington High School event was provided by Trevor Patton, Washington Court House City Schools Director of Marketing and Communications.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica