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Panthers speak for school safety after Florida

Doug Ramsay photo

Snohomish High School students along with several faculty members formed a large heart in the center of the school’s athletic field on Wednesday, March 14 to show love and unity.

SNOHOMISH — Snohomish High School students added their unique voice to a nationwide chorus in solidarity with Parkland, Florida school shooting survivors in a peaceful demonstration March 14.
As a gentle rain fell, hundreds of students quietly filed onto the school’s football field and formed the outline of a massive heart in a show of support and unity. Many wore silver and burgundy, the school colors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter killed 17 people on Feb. 14.
“We’re here for them,” said Maya DuChesne, age 17. The event is about keeping each other safe, loving each other and being united as Panthers. She added: “We’re really trying to make this not political. Everyone is against violence.”
Students were solemn as they communed. Staff and parents stood by to witness and support the teenagers’ efforts to make their world safer and kinder.
“We love you guys!,” called down teacher Holly Hesselgrave from the bleachers.
“I love that this is student run, that they turn a tragedy that makes students feel powerless, turn it into a positive,” Hesselgrave said.
Photographers captured the image to be sent to the Parkland, Florida school on the one-month anniversary of the massacre.
Afterward, students left the field to hear their peers speak on safety and unity, a firsthand education in the first amendment right to peaceably assemble.There was no talk about second amendment rights. While some of the nationwide demonstrations focused on changing gun laws or other political aims, Snohomish High student organizers set their own priority: creating safety by strengthening their community.
“The event on March 14 was entirely student-led and supported by school administrators per the direction provided by the students who initiated, planned and led the activities,” school district spokeswoman Kristin Foley said in an email, to raise awareness on violence in schools, build campus
culture, and create school unity. 
“The topic (for my speech) was safety, but it turned into kindness,” said speaker Araceli Daza, age 18. Daza equated kindness with safety. She said she’d learned the importance of creating community and being kind from leadership camp and from her freshman year. She still remembered a student
opening the door for her when she was a new student and welcoming her to school. It struck her that they did that not because they had to, but to be kind.
“The school does its best to keep us safe …. It does its part” but “we can all do more … and the most impactful way is kindness,” Daza told the crowd.
“I’ve seen brutality, sadness … but today is about love, unity, against violence of any kind,” said speaker Wyatt Wakins, age 17, to the attentive audience.
A video played next that voiced several students’ insights about creating a safe, loving environment. The adults heard familiar wishes for peace in their young voices as one student quoted from John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a hope for the world to be as one.
“What’s your 17?” read one slide, a reference to the 17 shooting victims, and a call to action.
DuChesne pledged to check in with 17 students that day and challenged all the assembled students to step outside their own comfort zones to create community too.

Doug Ramsay photo

Snohomish High School students, many of which were dressed in the burgundy and silver school colors of Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter killed 17 people on Feb. 14, head down en masse to the school’s athletic field during the nationwide walkout on Wednesday, March 14. At exactly 10 a.m. the school bell in Snohomish sounded, and the students gathered on the field where they formed a large heart that covered nearly 45 yards across the turf.

In the audience, more students shared their feelings and hopes.
Savannah Scheffler, 14, had a sympathetic outlook. She expressed her sadness about the shooting and her hope that if students could help people who were “hurting and broken” like the shooter to feel better, that would help prevent more tragedies.
Some students admitted the fear of school violence, of mass shootings, lingered in the back of their mind, but they seemed to feel insulated by the closeness of their community.
“It’s very difficult to hear about school shootings, it makes me realize how precious each day is. It made me feel happy about the climate at Snohomish” High, said 18-year-old Samantha Beeman. “What can we do?” she asked. She answered, the students can focus on unity, love and spreading kindness everywhere.
Harmony Main, age 14, said she worried more about other schools than Snohomish High and that it was the best school she had attended.
“I’m extremely proud to be these kids’ principal,” said Principal Eric Cahan. “They could have made it divisive, about politics, about gun control, but they chose to make it about making school better and relationships stronger.
“People are on edge, they want to all have a safe school … and we’re doing everything we can to listen to try to find alternative solutions where we can strengthen ourselves,” Cahan said. “All the research points to starting with positive relationships.”
In a statement, student body president Javon Hinton said “Snohomish High School may not have addressed gun violence and may not have presented opportunities to protest it, but it opened the conversation of how we can change the epidemic of school/gun violence. It all starts with us. We can take action and make our school a better place, or we can complain and watch it fall apart. What will you choose?”


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