On a day of national protests, some local schools chose to use the day as a time for students to remember those killed a month before in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and discuss ways to bring the community together.
On Wednesday morning, schools across the county held events aimed at letting students have their voices heard.
Many of the events started at 10 a.m. and lasted 17 minutes in memory of the 17 who were killed in the shooting.
At Forsyth Central High School, members of the Central Ambassadors, a student program, hosted a brief meeting in the school’s cafeteria to allow students to make their voices heard and talk about changes they want to see.
“From what I heard in the assembly, a lot of the students were just happy to see everyone come together,” said Zebadyah Ataelseed, a senior and ambassador at Forsyth Central. “I guess it kind of gives them a sense of unity that they can come to our schools, Forsyth Central, and say, ‘we are at home number two, home 2.0.’ That is basically what I got out of it.”
A few hours after Central’s event, students at Lambert High School held their own event with remarks from students, songs and a balloon release in memory of those killed in the shooting.
The Lambert event was focused on kindness. Senior Andrew Hama, an organizer of the event, said hearing from other students can be more persuasive than from teacher or parents.
“When it’s student-led, when it’s one of your own friends speaking, one of your own teammates speaking, it strikes a chord within you and you really think about the situation at hand,” Hama said. “It makes you really ponder and think, ‘I could really save a life. I could really save somebody’s life or I could make a new friend.’”
The events were not limited to public schools.
Students at Pinecrest Academy gathered 10 a.m. at the school’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel to pray for and read the names of victims of the shooting. About 100 high school students took part in the event.
“It’s important that we respect our students’ concerns over acts of violence and the underlying issues linked to this violence,” said President David Steffy in a news release. “Pinecrest Academy’s response to our students’ concerns and their desire to show solidarity with the victims was in line with the way we respond to every tragedy and event that calls for action. As a community, we always come together in unity and in prayer when a need arises.”
At Central, students were also asked to write their comments on a sticky note to be placed on a poster in the school’s hallway.
“We’re trying to just spread out positive vibes,” Ataelseed said. “We’re just trying to get that around the school and have everyone get together as one.”
Central Principal Mitch Young said high schools are less conducive to protests and walkouts than colleges but the school still wanted students to have a chance to express themselves.
“We also want our kids to learn how to handle free speech, how to do it responsibly and to have the opportunity to voice our thoughts and our feelings,” he said. “So, our student ambassador program wanted to do something on this day, but they wanted to channel it toward the positive.”
Young said he was impressed with the students’ comments but admitted he was a little apprehensive beforehand about what they might say.
“Listen, anytime you give students a mic, you’re not sure where it is going to go. I love our kids and I trust them, but loving and trusting them doesn’t mean they’re not going to say things I’m worried about or nervous about,” Young said. “The things they said really captured the spirit of Central.”
He added: “Their focus is what do we in a tragedy to bring people together, and I thought that message came out with everybody that spoke loud and clear.”
Like Young, Travis Church, an administrator at Lambert, said he was impressed with what the students had to say.
“I was blown away, personally,” Church said. “As an educator, you go through and you think students are necessarily able to speak as eloquently as some of these kids did, and the ideas that they had and thoughts that they had and the comments that they made, I think, speak volumes of the kids and speaks volumes to the character of the kids we have here at Lambert.”
One of those who expressed the most gratitude at the schools holding the event was not a student but an employee at Forsyth Central.
Donna Auker said she grew up near Parkland and went to prom at Stoneman Douglas High.
“I know a lot of the people, a lot of the community that lives there. My brother lives there,” Auker said. “His son had to run for his life the day of the shooting … all the children lost there have hit home to everybody.”