Students at area schools participated in coordinated demonstrations, expressing solidarity with the victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting and advocating for their safety and security.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 14, 2018
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, dozens of Haddon Township High School students stood in the morning chill, the wind whipping flags overhead, as they stood vigil for the lives lost in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Led by members of their student government, they held an observance free of political ideology but awash in emotional depth.
A choir sang as district personnel looked on from the parking lot, bubbles blew in the wind, and student leaders urged their classmates not to take their self-advocacy for granted.
“Today is solely for the purpose of respecting the lives affected by this act of violence,” said HTHS class secretary Paige DeAngelo.
“Each and every one of you that are standing here today are making a positive impact on yourselves and your community,” she said. “This is just the beginning of a chain reaction.”
The ceremony at Haddon Township High School was one among thousands held across the country during the National School Walkout, a country-wide demonstration advocating for tighter gun control in schools.
Jill Shaughnessy, Community Service Coordinator for the HTHS student government, urged students to remember that walking out “represents our strength.
“We need to remember the power we have as students,” Shaughnessy said. “When you leave here today, continue to keep the victims in your hearts and prayers, as the repercussions are everlasting.”
HTHS Student Council President Solomon Boukman asked those gathered to consider the fates of those who are “systematically silenced due to age, background, sexual orientation, or gender.
“As the students of HTHS, you chose today to physically and metaphorically stand up for your beliefs,” Boukman said. “Although you all have individual ideals and political opinions, you all decided to walk out here together and pay respect to the 17 who lost their lives at Parkland High School, and that is a statement that will forever be remembered in Haddon Township history.”
Boukman challenged those in attendance to “step out of their comfort zone even more so and contemplate the views of others you do not necessarily align yourself with.
“In doing so I hope we can come to an intrinsic unity, similar to what we have here today,” he said.
Merchantville Chief School Administrator J. Scott Strong said his district, which is a self-contained pre-K-to-eighth-grade building, divided up the messaging for younger and older kids. Their solution was to create, with student input, a school pride day to reflect on values of safety and kindness. Younger students formed a heart in the gymnasium, while older ones stood outside, linking arms to “stand together for Merchantville.”
“It’s not appropriate for us to do the same things as a high school or even a middle school that doesn’t have five-year-olds in the building,” Strong said. “For 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, I didn’t want to get into the political aspect, but I wanted to give them the opportunity to voice their opinions.”
Strong said the topic allowed the students and staff to begin an important chapter in two-way conversation, one upon which he expects to rely more frequently.
“We need to listen to our students and help meet their needs to make sure they feel safe inside the school,” Strong said. “I liked the fact that I dialogued with them personally, and I’m going to try to do that on a more-often basis.”
In Haddonfield, teachers, administrators, borough commissioners, and members of the local school board marched down Kings Highway in solidarity with students and educators across the country. Many carried signs with the anti-violence slogan, “Enough is enough,” the rallying cry behind the push led by Stoneman Douglas students for stricter gun laws.
Board President Adam Sangillo thanked teachers for having “chosen a profession that has the most direct impact on our children’s future, on our country’s future,” adding that “the board of education stands with our teachers and stands with our students.”
At Haddon Heights High School, Principal Eric Rosen oversaw an assembly conceived by students and facilitated by staff.
“It started because we had some students who came to us and said, ‘We want to do something,’” Rosen said. “We wanted to give them a voice to do that, but we said, ‘If we do that, it’s going to be led by you and planned by you.’”
In all, 17 students and staff members, one representing each life lost in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, read those students’ names, ages, and some personal details about them.
A Haddon Heights football coach read the name Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach at Stoneman Douglas who died in the shooting.
“We had three student speakers delivering heartfelt speeches regarding change, and how we can help each other,” Rosen said.
“We had an AP student who sat way off to the side, and her message was, ‘Did you notice me? Did you take the time to say hello?’
“I’m truly amazed by the thought and the passion that our students had in implementing this and delivering it today,” Rosen said.
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