NORTH CRAWFORD - On Wednesday, March 14, 30 teachers and 240 students from the North Crawford School walked out of the building at 10 a.m. in solidarity with students and staff across the nation.
In the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students from that school and schools across the nation have riveted the nation’s attention on the issue of school violence. The shooting in Florida claimed the lives of 17 students and staff, and rocked the nation.
More than 3,130 school walkouts were scheduled across the country for the day. The national organizers called for a 17-minute walkout at 10 a.m. local time in every time zone.
Actively engaged citizens
Whereas at some schools, the walkout was not approved or supported by the school administration, at North Crawford, the event was a collaboration between students and the administration.
“Whenever we have the opportunity, we should encourage our students to be actively engaged citizens who are educated on issues that directly and indirectly affect their world,” Middle School-High School Principal Toby Tripalin said. “The student leadership team and I wanted to create an event to honor and pay tribute to the people who have lost their lives in these tragedies, and also to create some breakout sessions through the morning that focused on empathy, acceptance and creating a culture on inclusion and kindness in our building.”
During the walkout, students and staff observed a moment of silence to remember the 17 students who lost their lives in Florida. Most stood alone in a tightly packed group, some took the chance to hold onto each other for comfort. There were no protests, signs, or dissention – it was a somber and moving moment of solidarity in remembrance.
Students speak out
After the observance, two students, junior Jasmine File and sophomore Noah Miles delivered heartfelt remarks to the gathered crowd.
File’s remarks were:
“This walk out today is part of a greater movement. It is to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day. The moment of silence was for you and I to pray for the souls or wish them good luck on their next journey. In this walkout, we are here to join the others all across the nation to speak out against school shootings and gun violence.
“Today, I hope that you were able to see and talk to others that you don’t usually talk to. The goal of today was to make you think and know that this is a safe place, that you’re not alone, that we all need someone to lean on sometimes, that everyone in this school will bring you in with open arms, and we all care whether we admit it or not.
“But this is what we can do:
“We can look at each other, right now, and think about at least one good thing about that person next to us;
“We can ask how someone is, even when you know that they’re not fine;
“We can all show a smile and say ‘hi’ to people, even if we don’t talk to them.
“Now, at this time, I would like to read you a few good quotes and poems:
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and shameless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty, Mother Theresa
“We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colors and all cultures are distinct and individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity. We don’t share blood, but we share the air that keeps us alive. I will not bind myself and say that my black brother is not different from me. I will not bind myself and say that my brown sister is not different from me. But my black brother is he as much as I am me. But my brown sister is she as much as I am me, C. Joybell
“Life is not about being rich, being popular, being highly educated or being perfect. It’s about being real, being humble, being kind.
“With these things that I’ve read to you, I hope you’ve realized that you don’t have to be the hero, and not all of us can do that, but just random acts of kindness – that’s what we can do, that’s what all of us can do.
“I hope that this day was able to make you feel you’re part of the family I call ‘North Crawford.’”
Miles’ remarks were:
“Since 1999, there have been 25 fatal school shootings, and around 150,000 students have witnessed a school shooting. Some of the shootings resulted in more deaths, but all were equally tragic. The most recent was at Parkland High School in Florida. Seventeen lives were taken, and 14 others were wounded.
“Today, we have walked out to pay respect not only to those who lost their lives in the Florida shooting, but all school casualties and deaths.
“I stand here today to tell my fellow classmates WE have to help start the movement. WE must make the changes. The politicians who think they know what’s happening do not walk the halls with us.
“There is one group that can solve a problem this serious – the ones who live in the issue. I do not speak only to my fellow classmates and school attendees, but to all the youth that walk the halls at any school.
“WE must make the difference, and it starts with us. So, today, I encourage you to talk to new people you usually would not talk with, make everyone feel comfortable and welcomed, help those who need the help, and be there for anyone in need. We have to open our eyes to these clearly visible signs.
“People tend to have their own cliques and groups of friends they hang out with. Today, our goal is to intertwine those cliques and groups, and make everyone work together.
“Our goal should be to make those groups disappear, introduce ourselves to people different than us, and learn to love the differences. In today’s society, we as young people do not have choices on a lot of things, yet we are told that WE are the future. There are many things we cannot do, but this is something we can do.
“We can make the halls comfortable for everyone. We can take the time and effort to make sure everyone feels accepted. So, as we go throughout the day, remember if people feel comfortable then they will be less likely to do something radical.
“We are a whole. We need to work together, and push for positive change together. Otherwise, nothing will ever happen. This is a nationwide movement, and it needs to be done now. No more lives need be taken, and no more people need to be scarred for life. So, today, let’s start together.”
Not a gun issue
Both File and Miles, when queried, said that they did not view the issue of school violence as primarily a ‘gun issue.’ Both students were also quick to say that they did not feel ‘unsafe’ in their school.
“I don’t see this issue as a gun-issue, exactly,” Miles said. “There’s stabbings and bombings that kill just as many people as are killed with guns. If we see these people, we need to try to get them help, so we have less tragic events.”
Miles pointed out that in his community, people use guns to obtain food for their families. He expressed that taking away guns won’t solve the problem.
“Criminals will still have access to guns even if we make them illegal,” Miles said. “If you feel like no one cares about you, that can push you to do tragic things.”
“Lots of people own guns for hunting,” File said. “This is a people issue. When people feel alone, they can be pushed to the brink and act out in order to get attention.”
File said that what concerned her is the kids that get bullied, that don’t have friends, kids that are isolated.
“Everyone should be able to have at least one friend they can talk to,” File said. “I think our main problem is a people issue, not a gun issue.”
“This is a WE issue,” Miles said. “Change has got to start with the man in the mirror.”
“What we need is not so much a change in culture, but to become more aware,” File said. “No school sees it coming, and what we need is to be more aware of what could happen, and take more responsibility for ensuring that is doesn’t.”
Teachers feel safe
Tyler Dornick and Karen Brandl were two of the teachers who facilitated breakout sessions following the general assembly at the school that day.
“I absolutely do feel safe in this school. I think North Crawford is an open and safe environment for most importantly students, but also all staff members,” Dornick said. “But, I also think taking measures like this day and other precautions about keeping our building safe are very important.”
“The intention of the day was to build better relationships within our school -staff and students. I met some kids that aren't yet in my classroom and that was positive. Students were supportive, cooperative, and engaged,” Brandl said. “I do think that the district has taken steps to improve our safety in the building also.”
Discussion and reflection
Tripalin and other North Crawford staff members planned for a day of discussion and reflection following the walkout. The morning began with an assembly for the middle and high school students, with conversations on mental health, respect and acceptance. Freshman Nate Zibrowski gave a talk which focused on acceptance and paying respect to the people that have lost their lives through school shooting tragedies.
Following the assembly, students met in small groups in which staff members facilitated guided discussions around those themes.
“I’m very proud of our students for wanting to advocate for fellow students around the nation,” stated North Crawford District Administrator Brandon Munson. “I believe the walkout and activities that have been planned for our students are a safe and constructive way for our students to express their views and show their support. This is a reflection on how effectively our staff and students work together for a larger cause.”
Culture of empathy
“As a public educator I believe my job is citizen building,” school guidance counselor Zoe Ellerbusch said. “If students can learn and practice these skills early in life, we have a much better chance of living in a world with adults who have empathy, positive coping, and emotional regulation skills.”
At the February 21 meeting of the North Crawford School Board, North Crawford Instructional Services Coordinator Holly Jones enthusiastically informed the board about the district’s intent to purchase and deploy the ‘Second Step’ curriculum recommended by guidance counselor Zoe Ellerbusch.
“The Second Step curriculum is designed to help kids understand emotions and empathy,” Jones explained. “It is a universal curriculum that works with the classroom teacher and creates a common language.”
Jones explained that the curriculum has four sections: academic, mindfulness, child protection, and bullying.
In a timely rollout of the planned school-wide initiative designed to create well-rounded citizens capable of employing both rational and emotional intelligence, the school held breakout sessions on the day of the school walkout.
Teachers and staff led sessions where students could talk about empathy and how to show empathy toward other students. Empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.
“I think it was a positive experience. I thought our students ran this session with class and professionalism,” Dornick said. “I have heard feedback in my classroom that has been very positive overall. I hope we continue to do days like this one scattered throughout the year at appropriate times.”
Dornick explained that he thinks overall the message the school was trying to speak about was empathy.
“We as a district and staff think that if we can build a culture of respect in our building, our students will be better off in their future,” Dornick said. “Our student leadership group wanted to focus on empathy and respect for others.”
Guidance counselor Zoe Ellerbusch, who started with the district just this year, facilitated one of the discussion groups.
“I worked mainly with middle school students in the small group discussions, and we were focused on empathy and positive coping skills,” Ellerbusch said. “We didn’t discuss the Florida shooting or issues around guns in our group.”
Ellerbusch stated that she thinks the activities on Wednesday helped strengthen the student community, and explained that the district intends to continue with PK-8 guidance classes focusing on many themes including empathy, emotional awareness and regulation, positive coping skills, and goal setting.
“We are excited to begin using the Second Step curriculum in K-8 guidance classes, as well as in regular classroom settings and after school,” Ellerbusch said.
Karen Brandl echoed Dornick and Ellerbusch about the focus that the students and staff chose to give the day’s activities.
“We aligned our day with the student protests across the nation, but our focus was not on a political demonstrations, but rather on building relationships,” Brandl explained. “I was very proud of the group of students who organized and led the day's events. They're a great group.”