Op-Ed: Join Student Advocacy Initiative March 14 to stand with Florida

Hatters organize to participate in demonstration on school safety


Gillian Brown

Students make posters for the Advocacy Initiative on March 14.

Gillian Brown, Staff Writer

The nation held its breath on Valentine’s Day as details unfolded of yet another school shooting. It was a Florida high school this time, and 17 people lost their lives to a man with an AR-15.

The tragedy shifted the national conversation to the gun control debate as politicians argued over the solution to prevent mass shootings.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High have responded to the incident at their school with strength and eloquence. They’ve become outspoken advocates for gun control, creating the Never Again movement and organizing the March for Our Lives demonstration slated for March 24.

The Parkland students have attended rallies, met with countless politicians and lawmakers, and even took on their Congressional lawmakers at a nationally televised CNN town hall. Their work is inspiring. They’ve demonstrated the power that the voices of a few passionate teenagers can have.

Our idea to get DHS involved in the movement first came about on Feb. 15, the day after the Florida shooting. I was interviewing my former history teacher, Michelle Passarelli, for another story. She was angry.

“This shouldn’t happen,” she had said. “We can make change. We really can.”

She had this urge to do something, anything. I felt it, too. We discussed planning a schoolwide activity to express our opinions. It would be a platform to raise awareness about gun violence.

I talked to my friend, Madison Albano, and she shared our enthusiasm about doing something. Passarelli had mentioned that she had spoken to Principal Dan Donovan and he liked the idea of a safe, well-organized schoolwide demonstration. After another meeting with Passarelli, we soon had a basic outline of what we wanted to do. It was daunting. We knew we had two and a half weeks to plan a schoolwide event. We knew it would be a lot of work, but it was worthwhile. Albano and I drafted an official proposal and scheduled a meeting with Donovan.

This shouldn’t happen. We can make change. We really can.”

— Michelle Passarelli, teacher

We decided to plan a Student Advocacy Initiative, where students, teachers, and community members will gather on the football field to express solidarity with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and support the Never Again movement. It will be a memorial to honor the lives of the victims and keep them in our memory, as well as a call to action. We also hope to use this Advocacy Initiative to raise awareness about gun violence and mental health.

The activity will take place on March 14 to coincide with the national event created by the organizers of the Women’s March to protest gun violence.

During the activity, students will read brief bios of the victims, ring a bell, and have a moment of silence for each life that was lost. Before and after the vigil, we’ll have students read short speeches they wrote to highlight a specific topic surrounding gun violence. We also are encouraging students and staff to wear orange on March 14 to protest gun violence. Students can also make posters for the event to express their thoughts.

This will be a safe and peaceful event. Participants should remain respectful at all times. We want this to be a safe outlet for students to express themselves and feel like they have a voice.

The principal of Stoneman Douglas requested that schools send one big banner in lieu of gifts or individual letters, so we plan to present a banner during the event that will be sent to the school. It will read “Danbury High School stands with Marjory Stoneman Douglas” and feature both of our school logos. We encourage students and staff to sign the banner and write messages of support. The banner will be available for signatures during lunch periods in the cafeteria and after school in D380.

Our meeting with Donovan was on Feb. 26. He approved our idea with enthusiasm, but remained cautious, not wanting our message to get lost. He helped work out some of the logistics of the activity. Wednesday, March 14 is now an advisory day, and the event will take place during that advisory period to limit the loss of class time. Extra security will be on campus, an announcement will be made at the start of the period, and students will be made aware that they would not be punished for participating, but must abide by school rules. A letter will also be sent home notifying parents of the activity. Albano and I will approve all of the speeches, bios, posters, and messages on the banner to ensure they are school appropriate and refrain from any vulgar, hateful language.

This Wednesday, March 7, we’ll make maroon ribbon pins to be passed out at the event to honor Douglas’s school colors. We’ve reached out to honor societies and community-based clubs and are encouraging students to come volunteer.

This Friday, March 9, we will also stay after school in D380 to review students’ speeches and bios. Students who wish to read a bio have been assigned a person and will present it to us. Those who want to read a speech can choose their own topic, but must also read it aloud to us this Friday. Many have already expressed an interest in reading a speech, so the candidates will have to be narrowed down. They will be judged on the content of their speech as well as their presentation. We are thrilled that so many have shown such enthusiasm for the event.

Overall, I am excited for the Advocacy Initiative. This is the largest event I’ve helped plan, so I’m anxious to see how it goes. My main concern is that our message gets across loud and clear.

I want people to hear the names of the 17 victims, to listen to their stories and realize that they were people. They were students, teachers, kids. I want the families of those victims to see their loved ones honored and remembered. I want people to hear those 17 names and realize that this is why we need drastic change in this country. Because the instant we start to forget, we stop demanding for change. We stop making an effort to solve these solvable problems.

We need to keep this issue in the conversation.

I hope students and teachers join our schoolwide student initiative on March 14 and work to make change so that something like this never happens again.

Editor’s noteOfficial updates regarding the Student Advocacy Initiative can be found on Twitter @DHSAdvocacy.