The snow fell steadily. Plows made loud noises around us. Yet, amid the noise, amid the shuffle of life, 70-something middle and high school students standing in a circle held 7 minutes of silence and then shared bios of the people who were lost in Parkland, Florida during a school shooting. This was a non-sanctioned, school neutral zone of support—- organized by students and for students, and we, their teachers, could participate as we saw fit. Students circled up naturally and drew closer together when voices were soft. Local police stood nearby if needed and they were not…but still so good to sense their presence within school grounds.
We stood for 7 minutes of silence reflecting on lives lost, gun violence, and maybe even some envy of snow days for other people. I found my eyes drifting over to the Karina MacKay Memorial Field sign, a symbol of another life gone too soon, one taken by cancer and not bullying or school violence. I never knew Karina MacKay, but I sure as well knew her sister, Randi, and her mom, Paula, and dad, John. But I was a young 25 year old when the Karina Field was dedicated during a soccer game held when I first moved to the North Country. That day, I remember standing on the field, coaching the Lisbon team, and wondering about the mom and dad whose daughter’s life had been lost to cancer and countless memories. How do you do it? How do you go on when a life has been lost?
Fast forward many years later and I’m a teacher now at that same school– many years older and wiser and thoughtful. My students are generally in class discussion 97 percent compassionate, loving, and reflective. But in the moments of our school walk out in memory of lives lost in Parkland, Fl— we are 100% somber and serious. We are 100% thinking about the world we live in where lives are lost through gun violence/ mental health illness/ lives gone badly. I’m standing secretly behind the ninth grade daughter of my first friend in town who became a mom. This beautiful baby had a full head of black hair and now stands taller than me in a circle of concerned friends on a cold snowy day. Quieter than many of her peers, I imagine the thoughts flowing through her brain. On my other side is a student whose family hails from Pakistan, and I’m proud of her presence in this moment because her voice is often quiet in class; yet, I know she stands for words, women, and wonder beyond this moment.
Worrying for the students for whom moments of silence NEVER happen– or for whom they cannot exist, I am proud, pleased, and empowered by their ability to absorb moments and memories. I’m proud and grateful for the support of our school district, our School Board, our superintendent, Judy McGann, and our new principal, Scott Currier, who could have taken a different route; he could have pulled the plug and not allowed a neutral position for our students to walk out of our building today at 9:55. He is younger than me and colleagues joke that I want his job– that I need to be in charge– that I like power and control and while some of this is true, I do not want to be an administrator in today’s schools. I prefer to be with my students, in my classroom, bouncing ideas off one another, facilitating the processing of complex issues like gun violence. Mr. Currier communicated with our students’ parents about what took place; he let our students empower themselves with a school walk out that focused on the memories of lives lost and what our next steps will be. We worked together to help students in charge reflect on what would change lives, change hearts, change the 18th minute after the silence. However, this was NOT a school event. This walk out would not have happened had we not had a community of kids who CARE deeply about one another and the world they are growing up in. They are part of our student body; they are part of our Youth Leadership Through Prevention; they are kids who would not have participated if this had been solely political– or solely about gun control– or solely about gun violence. They came and read bios of students who died while at school– while in class or walking down the hall or while being regular ninth graders– because they cared deeply.
We will hold a community school safety forum on Monday, March 19 at 5 pm at the school, where I will facilitate a panel of professionals within our district. I hope we can listen to one another and model for our children our problem solving capacity. Our children deserve the best of us, and we can be present. We can be available. We can listen. It’s the very least we can do as educators, parents, and community members.