NEWINGTON - Local students are taking a stand against school violence and raising the flag for diversity and acceptance.
Teenagers at Newington High School were quick to turn their grief into action following the Valentine’s Day killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Just two days later, NHS senior Matt Plourd put a call out on social media, rallying fellow school leaders.
Before classes began Wednesday morning, the entire school community gathered in the gymnasium for a student-led memorial service.
Each of the Parkland victims was honored separately, their photograph displayed for all to see and short biographies read aloud. This was followed by a performance by the school’s Chamber Choir.
“We believe there needs to be a change in the way legislators react to these mass shootings,” Plourd said. “It can’t all be thoughts and prayers. There needs to be action.”
He and nine others who planned the event are calling themselves the NHS Organizers. This week’s service marked the start of their campaign.
“Our generation has become far too desensitized to these kinds of things,” said National Honor Society member Abby Coia. “We wanted this to have a hard-hitting impact on kids who don’t really understand the weight of these tragedies.”
Principal Terra Tigno was happy when the group asked to meet with her to share their plans.
“They came to me with a purpose, a vision and a desire to make a difference,” Tigno said. “I appreciate how they came forward in the spirit of working together to make this happen. Their passion is important to me and we’re working to accomplish their goals.”
Sophomore Cassandra Mayer said she joined because she felt emotionally affected by the shooting. Since working with others who share that passion, it’s ignited in her a new purpose.
“It’s bringing me hope that we can accomplish something real here,” Mayer said.
“This issue is greater than myself, greater than all of us,” Emily Sousa added.
The students agree that Connecticut’s gun laws are generally tougher than those of other states, which they hope to change.
“We want to help students across the country who don’t feel safe getting an education in their schools,” Jenna Scanlon said
Now that they’ve honored the victims, the NHS Organizers will be putting their passion into action on April 20.
On that day, students who wish to participate in a voluntary convention are being invited to share their input. The findings will be summarized in a letter to legislators.
“If you understand this could happen to any host of people you have a heart for, what can you do about it?” Plourd said of their mission. “We’re all citizens of this country and should all take initiative to make it better.”
Event details are still being ironed out, but Tigno has reached out to Newington police to ensure that activities remain peaceful and practical.
“Safety is our number one concern,” she said.
Senior Justin Field was in sixth grade when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings took place in Newtown, and said they forever changed him.
“That’s the day I realized I’m not safe and we’re not going to be safe until this issue is solved,” Field remembered. “We don’t want any more bloodshed in our hallways.”
Organizers acknowledged that they hope to connect with teens who feel alienated from their peers, in an effort to address the despair that leads to violence.
“Our school is a community of people that feels connected,” Mayer pointed out. “For those who don’t we’re striving to help them feel connected.”
“The school is taking really great steps to make sure everyone feels included,” Coia added. “If they need to reach out for help they can.”
Plourd is proud of the kindness that he sees in the hallways of NHS.
“The amount of support for people who are different far outweighs those who want to tear you down,” he said.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.