Students organized their own assembly at Wallenpaupack Area High School (WAHS), Wednesday, March 14, to show their support for the 17 students and school staff slain in the mass shooting incident at a high school in Parkland, Florida, February 14.

WALLENPAUPACK - Students organized their own assembly at Wallenpaupack Area High School (WAHS), Wednesday, March 14, to show their support for the 17 students and school staff slain in the mass shooting incident at a high school in Parkland, Florida, February 14.

They did this rather than a “walkout” was planned at other schools across the country that day, to seek unity over politics and division, the students said.

The voluntary assembly was organized to both show their support and discuss efforts to continually improve safety and security at the school, Principal Jim Kane said in a letter to parents and guardians. The letter was co-signed by Seth Brown, Student Council President.

This was done after collaborating with a group of student leaders at WAHS. Due to a two-hour weather delay, the assembly was scheduled at 2 p.m. rather than 10 a.m., the time that was circulated nationwide for a show of solidarity by students across the country who planned to march or stage rallies.

“Student Council had a meeting and everyone was talking about it, and that’s how we approached Mr. Kane to talk about it,” said Seth Brown, Council President. “And then everyone else here kind of approached Mr. Kane on their own.”

Avoid politics

Brown, a sophomore, said prior to the assembly in the auditorium, “Victims are getting overshadowed by the political mess of it, really. We just wanted to have something to show we really care, we want to help, and get rid of the political mess and learn to be safe.”

Cayti Cooper, also a sophomore, commented, “We were all very interested and invested in the movement that was going on. We wanted to do something that was safer and unified rather than separated by political beliefs… other schools were doing protests and weren’t really involving the administrators, and it ended up being either, you’re doing the walkout or you’re not doing the walkout, you either support gun control or you were a gun owner and it was really opposite of what we wanted to happen…. We put together more of a memorial to think about the victims and their families, rather than think about the political side of it.”

A senior, Debyn Cunningham, said, “This whole entire assembly is supposed to be nonpolitical. We just wanted to get our message out about all of the problems that are going on in this world, that we are not taking action upon. If people post something online, they think it’s a joke and it really isn’t. They should be going to their administrators about it and just talk about everything.”

Ranna Binns, a junior, said, “I’m glad we were given an opportunity to do this, to come together as a school. I think its really unfortunate that when these things happen, everyone looks at it for a week and then it’s done until the next one happens. That’s really sad. Also, because we’re in an area with so many varying political views, I think it was best that we took that out and just focus on educating ourselves on how to prevent these things and to remember the victims of Parkland… I think it’s really important to come together especially at times like this, because usually at high school we get so caught up in our own lives and who’s doing what, when we should all remember we’re all human and we should all care about each other.”

A freshman, Jess Sassier, commented, “I think this is very helpful and I’m glad it is non-political… Actually, my grandmother lives in Parkland and she gave me the idea to start the fundraiser. I have friends who went to Parkland. Luckily none of them passed, but my grandparents’ gardener- their daughter passed. Just to think about that is really awful.”

She said the Parkland shootings left a deep impact. She said she hopes similar responses occurred when the tragedies at the Columbine and Sandy Hook schools occurred.

Very proud

The principal said he is very proud of the students. He said there had never been a similar response driven by the students, that he was ever involved with. “I was approached by the students. We had several interruptions by snow days,” he said. “… They had great ideas of how to unify the school, not divide the school by doing a walkout.” He said what they wanted to share is something the whole school and community could embrace.

The students, he said, were learning to exercise their rights of freedom of speech in a productive way that could reach others. “This is the first time students are really taking a stand [on the school shooting tragedies] and students want to be heard. I think we will hopefully really see some changes made, not only in the political atmosphere, but within schools, within the culture of our school. If it makes a difference for one of two students, then it’s purposeful. One more student that gets a friend through this, one more student has somebody they know they can go to and count on, it’s well worth it.”

Showing kindness

Following the example of Rachel’s Challenge, Kane stated in the letter sent to parents, that they are reminded of the importance of being kind to others as shown by random acts of kindness All staff and students were asked to wear orange on March 14, the color signifying Rachel’s Challenge and the importance of showing kindness. Students were encouraged to perform 17 random acts of kindness that day- the same number as the number of victims in the Parkland shootings.

Several hundred students crowded into the auditorium for the approximately 20 minute assembly. Several students spoke, and tearful video was shown, a collage of pictures of the Parkland victims and images of the candlelight vigil, memorials outside Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where the incident occurred, as well as grieving adults and students, set to song.

One of the girls on stage, wearing orange like the others, reminded her classmates that the students are “the first offense” and hear things or see things on social media that their teachers and administrators wouldn’t. She said it was not being a “snitch” to say something.

Jess Sassier urged students to give, and said that if everyone could give a dollar it would make a big difference at the school in Parkland.

“Remember Rachel’s Challenge. Remember Parkland’s kids,” said another girl on stage. “Remember that we are all human beings in need of love and compassion. Be smart with your words and body in your actions, and please be kind. Your words matter. Your actions matter. And despite what you or anyone else may think, you matter.”