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NFA Community Participates in Nationwide Walkout

Karen Lau, Staff Writer

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Following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which claimed the lives of 17 people, students across the United States have organized protests to call for stricter gun control laws and new safety protocol. These protests inspired students and teachers at Norwich Free Academy to participate in a nationwide walkout, one month after the Parkland shooting.

On March 14, 2018, hundreds of students and teachers poured out of classrooms and marched around campus. The 17-minute walkout honored victims and raised awareness about school violence. Students carried posters and chanted “Never Again,” “Enough is Enough,” and “Not One More.” Many students posted pictures and videos of the walkout on social media to spread the powerful message. Throughout the rest of the week, students also contributed posters, photos, flowers, and handwritten notes to a memorial in the Atrium.

The morning of the event included a live broadcast featuring speeches by Head of School David Klein, class officers, and event organizers. Students read biographies and held photographs of Parkland victims, and rang a bell after announcing each victim’s name. Many students wore burgundy and silver, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas colors, and ribbons to show support.

Student Advisory Board President, Katie Kelly, took the initiative to organize this walkout. She believes in the importance of educating students about gun laws in Connecticut and allowing them to form their own opinions, and she wants to erase the stigmatism of mental health.

“[The Parkland shooting] in particular is so prevalent because the adolescents at [Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School] are sick and tired of hearing about school shootings in the news, as are we,” stated Kelly.

According to Kelly, the idea of the walkout originated from the Women’s March. NFA students connected through social media and brought their interest in the walkout to the administration. Once the administration voiced their support, student representatives of different clubs came together to organize the demonstration.

Kelly emphasized that the walkout is merely the first step in the fight against school violence for NFA. She hopes students will come together to take further political action, reach out to lawmakers, and educate themselves on the issue of gun violence. She encourages students to “Form an organization, talk to people, reach out to lawmakers, ask questions, become a conscientious citizen, and take action.”

Lower Paige Martin marched.

“I came to the event because I think it’s really important for all the students to stand together in order to face this growing problem throughout all schools,” Martin stated. She liked the show of unity among students and teachers, and she thinks it is critical for students to have a voice and use it to speak up about issues.

“It’s important to show that students can come together and use their first amendment right in order to create change,” commented Martin.

English teacher Gretchen Philbrick felt empowered by the walkout and realized her part in the movement as a teacher.

Philbrick said,“I think it’s very important that students have agency; they’re a large part of this community, so they need to be in leadership roles, too.”

Head of School, David Klein, emphasized the significance of working together with students to end school violence.

“School violence is becoming far too common, and I think that people’s voices need to be heard. And when you see the passion, energy, and concern being demonstrated by high school students, it will accelerate the conversation and it’s going to require all of us to stop it,” stated Klein.

Klein stressed the role of schools in the nationwide walkout. “As a school, it’s our job to help [students] learn how to lend [their voices] to important social issues. It’s our job to provide an opportunity to help [them] project [their] voice.”

Klein encouraged students to “See something, say something” when they overhear anything alarming, and trust that the administration will take action.

Director of Campus Safety, Kevin Rodino, explained how recent school shootings have affected the way he secures the NFA campus.

“[In the event of a shooting], the immediate response from the campus safety personnel would be a coordinated response from emergency services. [Campus Safety] uses the experience of other agencies and what they did in certain [incidents]. It’s an evolution of information that changes by the day,” stated Rodino.

Campus Safety monitors events on campus by relying on student and faculty information. Then they respond when appropriate and necessary. The Campus Safety department at NFA also trains with local community emergency response services a few times a year.

The issue of mental health, and its connection to gun violence, has also been addressed at Norwich Free Academy. Over the past six years, the number of mental health professionals on campus has increased. The school now boasts five social workers and six psychologists who work with students.

Together, Norwich Free Academy students and faculty are working to make a difference by remembering those who were lost to school violence, advocating for change, and promoting school safety.

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