SOUTH WHITLEY — One month to the date after students from Stoneman Douglas High School suffered the loss of 17 students and staff members from among their community, students in schools across the nation began planning a way to honor those who were slain during the violent school shooting in Parkland, Fla. and found a path to begin conversations to affect change locally.
Whitko High School allowed students to participate free of consequences such as truancy, unexcused absences or any other form of punishment. Principal John Snyder shared, “I saw this as an opportunity for a teachable moment where we could allow the students to lead.”
National Honor Society President, Austin Nettrouer planned a “Stand Up Convo” to be held in the WHS gymnasium. A slideshow of the victims from Stoneman Douglas were displayed on a large video screen, reserved usually for graduation. At 12:17pm, Nikki Lawson, senior, was allowed to use the school intercom to invite the student body to join the Stand Up Convo in the gymnasium. The activity was held during a planning period known as “Cat’s Pride” and students were allowed to choose whether or not they would attend.
The raw emotion of the students in the gymnasium was more than obvious, and later in the evening to come, students who were not identified by name were given a short questionnaire by the local YFC chapter which was listed on the Whitko Campus Life Facebook Page. “Students were asked what they want adults to know about how all of the talk about bomb threats and school shootings is affecting them.” In response, students shared “It’s really hard to concentrate on what I’m supposed to be doing because I’m afraid.” Another student shared “These threats are making me feel worthless, like they wouldn’t make threats if I really mattered.” Still another brave student shared, “Would you even miss me if it happened?”
Whitko has seen more than its fair share of school shooting threats, two in two week’s time, one at WMS and the other at WHS. The first scare originated through a rumor which held no truth and created a perceived threat at WMS, where in reality, there was no threat. The second occurred when a student made a poor choice in an attempt to get another classmate in trouble by writing a note which staged a threat, and then left the note in a restroom at the end of the day at WHS. Both threats were quickly diffused, but the consequences lingered as parents from Whitko Community Schools shared on social media their realized fears which manifested in many students remaining at home the following day from school.
Once inside the gymnasium, Nettrouer, who will graduate with honors this June, encouraged students to stand together among their friends. As students continued filing into the gymnasium they lined the sides of the basketball court. From a microphone, only one day after a threat had been made against his school, Nettrouer bravely began his opening remarks to his classmates and the WHS staff, “We stand here today to walk with those students and faculty of Parkland, as they cautiously, yet heroically ease back into their schools and rebuild a unified, vigilant student body. We stand here today, demonstrating to all schools, that we strive alongside you, in the attempt to establish the safest school environment and community possible.”
During his remarks, Nettouer directed the students attention to emergency responders and encouraged WHS students to applaud the service and humility of police officers and fire-fighters alike who had joined the convocation. “In case the unthinkable may happen, I wish for you to look at the men and women around us. These are the exact people that you will see in a crisis situation – that will be there for us to protect us and serve us.“
He then shifted his focus to the heroes he said were more commonly known as the teaching staff. “I know there are some teachers you don’t enjoy or think you don’t get along with, but in that similar unthinkable moment, these are also the exact people who have been trained and will give with all their ability to defend your life.”
When asked how adults can help them process difficult situations like school shootings, students responded “Talk to me. Ask me if I’m hurting or mad or sad and really listen to my answers. Ask me these things more than once.” Another student shared simply, “Teach me to protect myself.”
“The first part in solving a problem is recognizing there is one,” continued Nettrouer, “Currently, we are living through an international pandemic of fear. We live in fear. But this fear does not define us. Look at us right now, we’re together! Some of us are afraid, some of us don’t know what’s going on, but we’re here together, we’re standing together. That’s Whitko.”