EAST BEND — Students at Forbush High School took part in last week’s nationwide demonstration in the wake of yet another mass school shooting. The students also are working on projects to find solutions to end gun violence in schools.
On March 14 around 10 a.m., more than 120 students at Forbush High School participated in the protest. Principal Boomer Kennedy said that students gathered in the cafeteria where they observed 17 minutes of silence in memory of the victims that perished at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day.
Kennedy said teachers were informed in advance to direct any students wishing to participate in the nationwide protest to the cafeteria as the main goal at Forbush was to keep students safe during the protest.
“Our number one priority is safety and so we wanted to make sure that students were supervised if they wanted to participate in this,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said that students at Forbush had been taking part in discussions regarding gun reform, the possibility of arming teachers, and other options to improve school safety.
Yadkin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Martin said that students from Forbush Middle, Starmount Middle and Starmount High also participated in protest events at their respective schools.
“The smallest group was approximately 30 students and the largest totaled approximately 150. In anticipation of the possibility that some students might choose to walk out, school personnel at all four schools had identified a safe place on each campus for students to gather. Students who participated were respectful and there were no disruptions,” Martin said.
Forbush English teacher Laura Papsun, known to her students as Ms. P, said she was very proud of her students for taking part in the nationwide conversation around gun violence in schools. More than just 17 minutes of silence on the one-month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, Papsun’s students have been discussing this timely topic in class and are working in small groups to research possible solutions.
“Watching the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the days that followed the shooting, I was in awe at their poise and composure,” Papsun said. “I have always had students that were equally intelligent and eloquent in my classes. We are so lucky to have such great students in Yadkin County. They have great ideas on ways to improve our world. They do not, however, always have a forum to share those ideas. All I’ve done is try to give them such a forum and a means to share these ideas with policymakers.”
Papsun said she has done very little with the projects and had no input on the students’ ideas.
“All I’ve done is give them time and space to do the work. I provide guidance on grammar and word choice, but the ideas and the research is all theirs,” she said.
Students have researched school violence and then have proposed a solution that would reduce, specifically, mass shootings in schools, Papsun explained. Students have surveyed staff members, including the school principal, listened to Ted Talks, watched news reports, read government and nonprofit reports, and combed through local, state and federal budgets, she added.
“Importantly, they are realizing that these issues are much more complex than a social media debate or a single solution can provide. For me as their teacher, the most important take away is that they realize their voices matter. I want them to know that they do not have to wait until they are 18 to try to create change in the world. Their ideas are valid and worthy of being heard today. They just need to know how to speak up in such a way that people will listen,” Papsun said.
Among their proposed solutions are implementing a program called ALICE Training in schools (an active shooter preparation training), requiring clear backpacks, installing metal detectors, adding mental health awareness to the state’s health education curriculum, tweaking lockdown processes and drills, installing bulletproof doors and glass, providing teachers with “safelets,” which are electronic bracelets that can alert law enforcement in case of an emergency, promoting YCS’s school safety line to report concerning behavior or threats, increase school resource officers, key-card entry systems, arming school staff members, increasing the number of cameras on campus, and electric keypad locks.
Kylie Payne was among the students who took part in the protest and has worked on the project in Papsun’s class.
”I participated in this protest to show America that they need to do something about this problem now before it happens again,” she said. “I mean how many lives will be lost before someone actually does something about it? Why should we sit on the side lines and watch all these horrible things happen to innocent children who have done nothing to deserve what has happened to them?” she said.
Payne’s group project for class had a focus on mental health.
“We are wanting to focus more on how mental health is a big factor in many of these shootings that have occurred but many have overlooked. We think that if more is focused on this topic then many of these awful things can be stopped, if everyone focused on mental health, as they do drugs and alcohol abuse, then a lot of these problems can be prevented and maybe even stopped.
“Our group thinks that we should have a class that is required just like PE is, it will consist of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression and the signs of someone who could cause a potential threat to our school or others,” Payne continued. “You would have to take a test at the end of the semester like an exam on all the things you have learned in the class. We think we also need more teachers to be able to also understand and see the signs and to be able to be the person who can get the kid to open up about what he/she feels. These may be little things and it might not be much but a movement starts little then gets bigger as it goes so I think we should consider these things.”
Jasmin Alvarez-Velez also took part in last week’s protest, though she said she had not originally planned to.
“I hadn’t taken it seriously since I first heard about it through social media,” Alvarez-Velez explained. When another student left class to participate and then returned to encourage other students to join, she changed her mind.
“When a student chose to walk out and come back to class saying that this was the real thing, I stood up, and walked out without a second thought,” she said, even though the teacher of the class she was in at the time was discouraging students from taking part and indicating they would not let students return to the class after the 17 minute protest had ended.
“For me, it wasn’t just about the thrill of skipping class or the idea of defying our teachers, but the simple act of having our cause be heard,” she said.
Alvarez-Velez said she could not truly describe how she was feeling during the 17 minutes of silence meant to honor the memory of the students who lost their lives on Valentine’s Day at a Florida high school.
“Throughout those 17 minutes, imaginative thoughts of what the school shooting was like; the screams, the deaths, the fear of something that had happened at that exact moment exactly one month ago, replayed in my mind viciously,” Alvarez-Velez said. “It made me think, how long do we have to wait for an act to be made that would reduce school shootings and school deaths so it won’t even be necessary to have a walkout?”
The project that Alvarez-Velez researched suggested adding more cameras for better security on campus.
In addition to researching ideas, students in Papsun’s class also are working on writing letters to legislators.
Payne added that speeches and condolences from government leaders did little to thwart future attacks, but she hopes she can be part of the impetus for policy changes that could end school shootings.
“I might be one person, but I will try my hardest to make everyone around me see what is happening right in front of our faces,” said Payne. “I think that the protest was needed and maybe more are needed for everyone to actually see what’s going on in our world today that no one has done anything about.”
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-469-0826 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.