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OHS, OEHS students hold sit-ins on walkout day

Exactly one month after 17 teachers and students were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, thousands of students from across the country stood up and walked out of school in solidarity Wednesday.

In SD308, however, students participated in events that kept them indoors due to safety concerns. All junior high schools and high schools had an increased police presence on school grounds, restricting traffic in and out of the school for the hour that events were taking place inside the schools.

At Oswego and Oswego East high schools, students held a voluntary sit-in in the hallways of their schools, and listen to students read the names and stories of the victims of the Parkland shooting. The sit-ins were scheduled events approved by school administrators.

According to a flyer prepared by the OEHS Student Council, the sit-in was planned to “memorialize the lives lost in school shootings, to advocate for safe learning environment, and to express our voices of sympathies and concern.”

OEHS senior and student leader Bethany Oceguera said, “The outcome was outstanding and allowed for Oswego East to come together and commemorate the lives lost. ... I was reminded of how kind Oswego East students and staff are and how I’ll always have resources available to me when I feel I need them most. My pride to be a Wolf was truly reinforced after today.”

Stephanie Scapino, an English teacher at OEHS, added, “I can only speak for what I observed in my own hallway, but  everyone I encountered was respectful of the situation, regardless of their level of participation. ... The students who directed the events via the PA were mature and impactful, and they set the tone for the walkout itself. I met some new people because those kids make the effort to say hello, per the suggestions they were given.”

“I could not be prouder of our students,” she said.

Theresa Komitas, director of communications and public relations for SD308, said that no students walked out of the building at OEHS, but 12 students walked out of OHS, and several students walked out of three junior high schools. She said that teachers and police officers were stationed outside and near the students in all situations.

When the district’s activities were first announced on Monday, Superintendent John Sparlin said in a statement that “If students choose to exit the building on this day, as with any other school day, our attendance policies and consequences will be enforced.”

Students were also given the opportunity to compose letters to their legislators, or to the students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and could participate in discussions to reinforce unity and inclusion.

At Oswego High School, students on the school’s Democracy Team worked with faculty and administrators to put the day’s events together. The group issued a statement that read, “We are honored to have been given the opportunity by the OHS administration to organize an event in which the whole school could stand in solidarity with the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”

“Society has a problem, and even though there’s a lot of controversy over how this problem should be solved, that’s no reason for us to ignore it,” OHS student and Democracy Team member Allyson Smerz said. “The action that we as students take is so important because we’re the next generation, and it’s important that we learn how to use our voices before taking our roles as the 'leaders' of society.”

Smerz added that she felt “empowered” through the events and her part in planning them, because “I felt like my voice mattered."

OHS senior Nolan Flaherty added, “I feel like this was an event that needed to happen at our school. Students in our country are beginning to become emotionally immune to these school shootings, and we wanted our students to recognize that there is an issue with school safety in our country that needs to change. Our youth are the future, and without their voice, the past will repeat itself.”

At the elementary level, students and teachers joined in a Kindness Challenge, where they were encouraged to find ways to make a positive difference. Activities included decorating lunch bags for the homeless shelter, thinking of 17 ways to make somebody’s day better, encouraging students to sit with somebody new at lunch, and writing anonymous notes of compliment to fellow students. At multiple schools, students and faculty said that the activities made them feel proud, appreciated, unified, and included.

Prairie Point Elementary School Principal Dr. Jennifer Groves said, "In seeing the many ways that our students are showing kindness, my heart is full knowing our future is in wonderful hands. It is days like today that I know each of us in education have the most important and very best job."

In the junior highs, students were taught how to reach out to their state and federal lawmakers and how to voice their opinions on matters important to them, gathered in the school as a group, and had the chance to participate in a discussion on how to have a positive influence on their peers and the school. Instruction was paused for about 30 minutes as students participated in the activities. At Murphy Junior High School, Principal Dr. Brent Anderson spoke to the students, and encouraged them to stand up for what they believe in, to be kind and supportive to their peers, and to treat others the way they would want to be treated.

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