Students honor victims of Florida shooting


Students at Seymour High School silently lined each of the school’s hallways with their backs against the walls and lockers.

Sophomore Luke Turner’s voice echoed through the hallways as he read the names of the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting a month ago.

As students in schools across the nation walked out as part of the ENOUGH National School Walkout for safer schools Wednesday, students at Seymour High School stayed in school to discuss issues of school safety, mental health, bullying and civic engagement.

“I think this was a best way of accomplishing that goal,” Turner said of the choice to stay inside for the event he and other students organized.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Bailee Wolfe, a sophomore organizer, agreed and said students probably would not have focused as much on the content if the school went outside in protest.

“I think it made all of us more aware of what we’re really walking out for,” she said, adding other schools where students simply walked out may not have discussed the issues and students may have simply seen it as an excuse to get out of class.

“Here, we actually sat everyone down and told them why and gave them information,” she said.

Students received nearly 20 minutes of information about school safety, resources, voting and to remember those students who have been lost to gun violence.

Turner said the reason for the event was clear: To continue the conversation to help make schools safe.

He said he sensed fear among his classmates following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but students were talking about how it was wrong that it kept happening.

“Then it slowed down a bit after a couple of weeks, but now, we’re talking about it again,” Turner said. “There’s a lot of worry and fear, which isn’t good.”

This generation of students has spent their lives hearing about mass shootings at schools, such as the ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Harrison Cottrill, another sophomore organizer, said people have become desensitized to shootings because of their frequency.

“People have gone numb to it because it’s happening so often,” he said. “It’s a big deal, and students have a right to go to school and not be afraid to be shot at or bullied, and they just have the right to be safe while they learn.”

Wolfe said there is a big difference between the incidents at Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas. This time, students are involved to hopefully make a change.

“Now, we’re old enough where we can make a difference,” she said, adding the students affected by Parkland were young and scared after Sandy Hook.

“This one isn’t going to be pushed to the side like the others because students will come together, and we can all make a difference,” Wolfe said.

While the students said they have seen a variety of proposals to make schools safer, there is one simple way to consider them all: Listening.

And they said they haven’t seen much of it.

Turner said everyone, including politicians and fellow citizens, need to listen as they discuss issues.

“We need to get past that barrier of issues where we can’t talk to each other,” he said. “We need civic debate and stop throwing nasty words and terms at each other because that doesn’t solve anything.”

And differing views should not stop people from engaging in conversation.

“Let your voice be heard, and don’t be afraid to share your opinions,” Wolfe said, urging everyone to have conversations with adults and family members. “There is no harm in sharing your opinion.”

Trent Hohenstreiter, a senior organizer, agreed.

He said people need to show respect for one another and work together to solve the nation’s issues.

“People respect each other’s views and understand both sides and see where they’re coming from,” he said. “We need to be better as a nation to work together as a whole.”

Working together should have no boundaries, either, Cottrill said. He said the issue is not one limited to race, religion, ethnicity or even politics.

Hannah Romero De Gante, a sophomore organizer, echoed those comments. She read information in Spanish during the program.

“Every color, every race can make a change,” she said. “Everyone can unify to understand the importance of these issues.”

Assistant Principal Talmadge Reasoner said he was proud of the students for organizing a successful event, adding many adults could learn from his students.

“They know how to have a civil debate and go about it the right way,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of adults have lost how to have a civil debate.”

Showing concern for the issues shows a level of maturity that people outside the school may not see in teenagers every day, he said, but Wednesday’s event was evidence the younger generation is engaged and is aware of what is happening in the world.

“Often, it’s easy to think teenagers are only worried about themselves and their social group, but to see them be engaged like this is important, and I’m proud of them for it,” he said.

Reasoner guided the students during the planning of the event and said he set out only a few parameters.

Those included a mix of ethnicity, male and female students contributing, and the event had to be nonpartisan.

“They were articulate and very on message,” he said. “The coolest thing about the school is that it’s small enough where staff and students know each other but big enough where we can do stuff.”

Now, the group has set its sights on being a force to be reckoned with, launching an effort to have conversations and encourage civic engagement.

During the school’s lunch periods, Turner plans to register students to vote in the primary and general elections even though he is not eligible to vote.

“Some of my friends don’t even realize you have to register to vote,” he said after the program.

He plans to tell them that’s how their voice can be heard and to encourage those younger than 18 to become active.

“If you’re not able to vote, you can still contact your representatives,” he said.

Hohenstreiter read about voting during the program and said civic engagement can accomplish a lot, especially when people gather in groups.

“Small numbers add up, and they add up to make change,” he said, adding voting is one big way to get things done. “I felt like it was my responsibility to register to vote.”

While there are a variety of issues the country faces and countless potential solutions, Turner has proposed a simple one that just might make a difference.

“Come to school with a smile,” he said. “That makes me happy, and someone having a bad day can benefit from that. I think it’s important we spread the message of positivity.”

No posts to display