As much of the state prepared for the third Nor’easter in 10 days to make its way through Rhode Island, many students in Cranston prepared to remember the 17 victims of the latest school shooting to take the lives of staff and students in the U.S. in a walkout Wednesday morning.
Wednesday is the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting massacre that took the lives of 14 students and three staff members at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
In what will be a hands-on lesson in civic education, the students at the secondary level have the option to participate in several civic-minded activities, should they wish to, including a memorial walk out of school from 10:00 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. on Wednesday morning, joining in a nationwide memorial 17 moments of silence, one for each victim.
Just as Cranston Public Schools supported those who wished to join in the “Rachel’s Challenge” chain reaction of kindness initiative following the Columbine school massacre several years ago, the district will now be supporting those students who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights by participating in the memorial walk-out on Wednesday as well.
Weather-permitting and where space is available, the students will have the opportunity to walk silently around their school buildings for 17 minutes or in other areas such as nearby walking tracks. In many schools an emphasis will be placed on activities promoting kindness, including the “what’s your 17” initiative, which promotes 17 acts of kindness and inclusion towards others. Additionally, at the high schools, there will be voluntary voter registration opportunities available for those who are of age to take advantage of it, and the district is encouraging students to wear white shirts on Wednesday to promote peace. For some of the students, the memorial is also being seen as a protest for better gun legislation, a fight for their own lives and safety, and an effort to support students across the nation who are fighting that fight as well.
“We are planning on marching around our school in unity to protest the lack of action against gun violence, and will supplement this with voter registration efforts in order to get our students’ voices heard,” said Cranston East senior and co-organizer of the day’s events, Nathaniel Hardy, in an email. “Being next to Cranston City Hall, we think our protest will send a strong message to our elected officials, particularly gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung, who has been nearly silent on his plans to address gun violence.”
“We are viewing this as a memorial, but for the students they are basically hoping to affect some change in national gun safety,” said Cranston East principal Sean Kelly. “[This is] completely student-organized. They view it as paying respects not just to Florida, but all shooting victims. They are working towards a positive outcome such as voter registration and an increase in civic actions and activities. The students have simply been tremendous in terms of wanting to see change being done. They have been thoughtful in their actions, and motivated. They are respectful and want it to be more than just a walkout. They really want some type of change to come out of this.”
Kelly stated that the Cranston Police Department will be on hand for any help needed in coordinating the day’s events and said that the students would walk out from the front doors of the school towards City Hall, and around the Briggs Building, and then through the school parking lot.
“It will be a silent protest while walking the entire parameter of the East campus,” he said, and noted that any students who choose not to participate will be protected and made to feel safe and secure in their choices.
Over at Cranston West, Principal Tom Barbieri expressed that there must be a “delicate balance” between maintaining a safe environment in addition to ensuring individuals rights of students.
“Cranston West administration has taken into consideration feedback from students, parents and faculty members on how to develop a plan for that day,” he said in a statement. “It is the intention of this administration not to interfere with or preclude this solemn and peaceful demonstration from taking place on that date, provided those participating in no way contribute to a disorderly and unsafe environment during those seventeen minutes. Students who do not wish to participate in the event may stay in their advisories with a staff member.” At the middle school level, some students expressed their own thoughts about the event and its significance as well as the impact they hope to have on change for the future.
Park View Middle School student organizers Tosin George, Anika Poshkus, Ruby Houle, Caden Holtzman, Christina Gomes and Rachel Cabral have worked in coordination with administration and staff at the school to create the day’s schedule of events, which includes the students being able to purchase red ribbons in order to walk the track for 17 minutes if they wish to, with that money raised by the ribbon sale going to the Sandy Hook Promise non-profit organization. Poshkus said, “Fear has no place in a school, and until we have sensible gun reform legislation, like banning all semi-automatic rifles and certain gun accessories, the feeling won’t go away. That’s really all we want to come out of this walkout, our lawmakers to get rid of unnecessarily dangerous weapons. Frankly, it’s disappointing that the youth of American are the ones fighting for a change. We’ll be responsible for cleaning up the mess that’s left behind in a few years, and it’s become evident that this generation is up for the challenge.” At Hope Highlands Middle School, Principal Alex Kanelos said the school will be utilizing several different options for students to take part in the memorial for Parkland. “On Wednesday, HHMS will extend advisory by two minutes as a way to honor the 17 lives lost on the one-month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneham school shooting,” he said. “Additionally, we have an activity promoting ‘Acts of Kindness’ that all students will complete during this advisory period. These sheets will be reviewed and we will provide feedback to everyone based on the results we receive. The plan is to post trends of characteristics or acts that our students see as the most important and valuable.” The school will also have a 17 second moment of silence at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. “Support staff and administration will be in the hallways and by the school exits at this time, if any student wants to exercise their right to participate in the nationally organized walkout,” he said. “If students do want to participate in this, we will funnel students out the front entrance and gather around the front rotary and American flag so that we are able to safely supervise this activity.”
Similarly at Hugh B. Bain Middle School, a variety of activities surrounding the theme of kindness will be taking place, according to Principal Jeff Taylor.
“On Wednesday, March 14, we will be beginning Bain’s 10,404 Acts of Kindness Challenge,” he said. “We are encouraging all students to complete at least 17 acts of kindness between now and April school vacation. Students will pledge their first act of kindness by filling out an index card in an extended 17 minute advisory on Wednesday. Additionally, we have organized a structured walk-in due to the pending inclement weather and conditions outside, which will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. For those students participating in the walk-in we are asking for a suggested $1 donation for a red ribbon sticker, which will be sold during advisory. All proceeds collected will be sent to the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund.”
Superintendent Jeannine Nota expressed a commitment to safety for the students balanced with the emotion and civic significance of the event, as well as admiration for the student initiative being shown here in Cranston.
She wrote the following in an email:
“Once again our nation is experiencing a tragic incidence of school violence. I know that our collective thoughts and prayers are with the students, staff and citizens of Parkland, Florida. Our commitment to provide a safe environment for our students and staff remains a daily priority. Many of these unfortunate tragedies underscore the importance of all of us staying connected with students to understand thoughts, emotions and opinions with as much support as possible.
It is a fundamental belief of our school community that our public schools reflect the values of our community, which hold sacred the constitutionally protected rights of all citizens to freedom of speech, expression and peaceable assembly. At the same time, we fully realize that many teaching and learning opportunities occur outside of the classroom and that civic and social education are as much of part of the curricula as all other subjects.
It is the intention of this administration not to interfere with or preclude this solemn and peaceful demonstration from taking place on that date, provided those participating in no way contribute to a disorderly and unsafe environment during those seventeen minutes. Students who do not wish to participate in the event may stay in their advisories with a staff member.
As a long time educator, and parent, I agree these acts of violence need attention. I admire the students and respect their wishes to have their voices heard on such a personal subject. I met with student leadership groups from East and West to discuss this event and heard their ideas and concerns. Their insights and thoughts on this topic are not to be dismissed. These students have seen several school shootings on the news in their young lives and these events have profoundly affected them. They are extremely cognizant of the solemnity of this event.”
(With reports from Pam Schiff)