Harborfields students came together to share their feelings on school shootings and gun violence Wednesday, rather than walking out.
Harborfields High School hosted a student-organized HF commUNITY Summit in the gymnasium at 10 a.m. March 14 rather than participating in National Walkout Day, a planned demonstration in which students across the United States exited schools in protest.
“Our schools are very safe and not just because we have enough security guards, cameras or buzzers,” said Superintendent Francesco Ianni in his March message to the community. “Our schools are safe because we believe in the importance of letting children speak about their feelings and emotions as a result of the events that surround us. We are always there to support and guide our students in appropriate freedom of expression.”
Harborfields principal Timothy Russo said the schoolwide event was scheduled after he was approached by many students who expressed a desire to “do more than simply walk out of a building and congregate somewhere,” in an undated letter to the community. Student organizers led the summit that allowed any students to publicly speak about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida Feb. 14 that killed 17 people and the ensuing, heated national discourse.
“No one should feel so unsafe in a place of such community and security,” said student speaker Sophia Braunstein. “Regardless of what political ideology you stand for, I think we can all agree that America has a problem.”
Braunstein, a senior, remembered how she was in seventh grade when the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings occurred that killed 20 children and six adults in 2012.
“I was left with a fear that never left,” she said. “The day after the Parkland shooting, that same feeling resurfaced and my anxiety grew so bad I asked my mom several times to leave school.”
Braunstein said even she could see the differences in the national discussion in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, where the victims were elementary school students, compared to Parkland’s high school students who are utilizing social media to call for change.
“For students in Harborfields who feel discouraged by adults saying you shouldn’t have a voice, or we don’t know what we are talking about, don’t be,” Braunstein said. “History repeats itself.”
She cited the leadership shown by the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African-American students who, escorted by federal troops, led the desegregation of public schools at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. Braunstein’s comments also touched on college students impact on public opinion of the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
“We can be and will be the generation that can say we ended mass shootings in America,” she said.
Olivia Espinoza, a student at Harborfields, said she really enjoyed hearing the passionate speeches from her peers Wednesday.
“This rally showed a beautiful side of our generation that isn’t afraid to stand up for what we believe in, contact our local senators, participate in protests and marches, and make a difference in the world,” Espinoza said. “I am confident we are on the road to change.”
Harborfields school administrators were not immediately available for comment on the event.