Photos by Joelle Sugianto.
North students attended a panel of school shooting survivors from Parkland, Florida who spoke on how they are changing the conversation on gun violence, Tuesday night at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge.
Moderated by former president of the Malala Fund, Meighan Stone, the panel featured Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) student activists Ryan Deitsch, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, and MSD alumnus Matt Deitsch. The panel, which covered topics ranging from mental health to political activism, concluded with a question-and-answer session, during which North junior Téa Baum was able to ask a question.
“We turn to the efforts of our guests tonight to organize this weekend’s march and to galvanize public opinion,” said Kennedy School Institute of Politics (IOP) director Mark Gearan in his opening remarks, referring to the nationwide “March for Our Lives” protest on March 24.
Kasky, touching on the nationwide impact of the MSD students’ activism, explained that school shootings rarely inspire public action. “We get two weeks in the news,” he said. “We get a bundle of thoughts and prayers, everybody sends flowers, and then it’s over. So we spoke out. We said, ‘No, you’re not controlling our narrative. We know that we can fix this, but we have to jump now.’”
During the question-and-answer discussion, Baum asked the panelists for advice on “what steps we can take to make change in all high schools.”
Matt Deitsch replied, encouraging high school students to “find people who want to learn and engage them within your own framework. You don’t need to rely on your teachers. Use social media, use Twitter, find a way to connect with your peers and educate them on these issues because you can’t vote every day, but you can educate yourself every day.”
Additionally, the activists pushed back against criticism that they are too young to understand the issue, with Wind saying, “I don’t think this movement would be possible if we weren’t teenagers. We are the only ones able to reach out to the youth and connect with the new voters and show that it is our time to make change.”
Launching the #NeverAgain movement immediately after the deadly shooting at MSD on February 14 was critical to the activists’ success, according to Kasky.
In the weeks following the shooting, these student activists have become national public figures and legislation that aligns with their cause has already been passed in some states, including Florida. The students have amassed massive Internet followings, often sparring with politicians on the news.
“This has just been five weeks,” said Ryan Deitsch. “And the amount of change we’ve seen and the amount of hope that we’ve seen in the eyes of the American people, it makes us want to keep going day after day.”
The panelists repeatedly urged those in attendance to take direct action and emphasized that gun control was not a strictly partisan issue.
Gonzalez encouraged the audience to instigate a town hall and confront local representatives directly. She asked the audience to tell their representatives, “Vote our conscience, because you are not a trustee, you’re a delegate.” Wind said that “at the end of it, it’s not about Democrat or Republican. It’s about children’s lives or children’s deaths. And we need to make sure we are all voting for children’s lives.”
Hogg also explained that the #NeverAgain movement is not an effort to attack gun owners and that citizens must stay politically aware. “We are not trying to take your guns and we are not against law-abiding gun owners,” he said. “Where we are trying to draw the line is I don’t think you need a weapon of mass destruction.” He added, “When you don’t pay attention to what’s going on, you are absolutely complicit in the death of our democracy.”
Mental health issues also came up often during the panel. Hogg told the audience not to confuse gun availability with mental health as the cause of mass shootings. “People with mental health problems are people and they need to be treated like people and citizens who deserve respect. They can’t just be lumped in with people who want to shoot up schools,” he said.
After the panelists completed their discussion with Stone, Kennedy School first-year Master of Public Policy student Joan Moon asked the panelists, “What is your call for action to teachers? What do you want to see teachers doing?”
The activists advised teachers to teach students how to formulate their own original political opinions. Kasky answered, “Inspire your students to vote, to speak out, and educate them on who they’re voting for.” Gonzalez added, “Sponsor an advocacy club or a politics club at school. Make it exciting for your students.”
The student activists also expressed hope for the future of U.S. politics.
“A year from now I see a very different political conversation,” said Kasky. “I see a lot of different people in office—I see a lot of people out of office. We expect to see thousands of schools with clubs promoting voter education.”
Several well-known figures attended the meeting, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and senior Kennedy School public policy lecturer Marshall Ganz, who is credited with devising the grassroots model for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Wind added, “It’s not just changing the future so this doesn’t happen again. It’s also for honoring the past. It’s 17 lives, 17 people.”
North students and faculty participated in a walkout Thursday, March 15 at 10 a.m. as part of a growing and student-led national movement protesting gun violence.
The rally occurred one day after other walkouts around the nation due to the snow day on Wednesday. Students dressed in black and exited the building through Tiger Drive for 17 minutes to show solidarity with the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting Feb. 14. Students were largely quiet during the somber demonstration.
“I’m here because I wanted to support the gun control movement,” said sophomore Brianna Spiegel. “It’s scary to think about how so many innocent young adults like us were killed for no good reason.”
Sophomore Timothy Chango-Gassett furthered those sentiments. “I’m walking out to show Parkland that we’re with them and that their efforts to try and create change will not go unsupported,” he said. “I honestly would have walked out regardless of the absence policy in place during the protest.”
Some protesters saw the walkout as a step towards national reform. “I want to be part of the generation that makes a change,” said senior David Rodriguez. “I believe that gun control is crucial to the safety of our school and of students. Students should be our priority right now as Americans.”
As a part of the walkout, organizers also announced a new Students Against Gun Violence club and urged protesters to call their local legislators to demand action.
However, other students said they found the manner of the protest ineffective. Sophomore Noor Shoresh said, “I don’t really know if this kind of protest, especially in an echo chamber like Newton, Massachusetts, is really what we need here right now. It feels like we’re doing it to make ourselves feel good. Massachusetts already has the lowest rate of gun violence and some of the strictest gun laws in the country, which is why we should be leading the national movement rather than protesting a problem that doesn’t really apply to us.”
Sophomore Ella McNally expressed concern about the level of support from the administration. “It didn’t really feel like a walkout style protest because the school played such an instrumental role in facilitating it. The librarians actually forced us to either go to the walkout or leave the library. That said, I think the walkout is a great step towards letting our representatives know what we want,” she said.
“Although in the grand scheme of things this individual walkout won’t mean much,” said Sophomore Henry Isselbacher, “it demonstrates to all of the people who claim that no gun reform is needed, just the scale of the people who think the opposite. It all started with this walkout today.”
Junior William Kritzer added, “It’s important for us as students in this country to show that sense of unity that all American students are in this together.”
After the silence, juniors Maya Lozinsky and Madeline Ranalli, the main organizers of the event, read aloud the names of the victims from the Parkland school shooting and chanted, “enough is enough,” and “the NRA has got to go.”
Some students held signs with messages such as “books, not bullets” and “protect kids, not guns.” Protesters also passed around sticky notes with their motivations to walk out, which organizers collected and made into posters after the event.
Newton superintendent of schools David Fleishman, who joined students in the walkout said, “I thought it was very meaningful and powerful, and I really believe in student-led activism. Hopefully this is not a single event but one that gets students motivated to make a difference in the world wherever they want to, and certainly, this issue of school shootings is one such place.”
School administrators suggested at a meeting regarding gun safety at this school that they will take several steps to improve security on campus, including locking some main entrances during the school day.
North students, faculty, and staff gathered in the library on Thursday, March 1 during X-block to discuss the Parkland shooting and gun safety on campus. Along with vice principal Amy Winston, Turner answered questions and concerns from students and teachers.
“The idea behind the meeting is to have a free-flowing conversation that really offers time for anyone to speak about how they’re feeling, to ask me questions, and to share some opinions on Newton North,” said principal Henry Turner.
Winston explained that the administration is brainstorming measures to keep the school safe, such as locking some previously unlocked doors.
Turner added that the school continues to believe in an open campus and “wants to preserve the culture of student independence.”
He added that “levels of security in schools will ultimately be beyond any policy decision that I or Ms. Winston can make, that really depend on bigger cultural issues at play here.”
Students voiced concern over the administration’s response to the Parkland shooting, with a particular focus on the lack of immediate discussion and a moment of silence for the victims.
“I think there is this growing culture not only in Newton, but nationally, to not have open conversations,” said senior Wendy Li. “I think having a moment of silence earlier on might have been helpful.”
Turner replied that “there are things we could have done better and I’ll own that we moved slowly here. But there have been a lot of shootings in 2018 and we hear bad news pretty much every single day, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to do moments of silence for every single tragedy.”
Turner also noted that he does not support the idea of teachers having guns on campus.
Many attendees spoke about their discomfort during the Feb. 16 fire alarm at North. The building evacuation occurred just two days after the Parkland shooting, where the gunman set off the fire alarm to draw students from their classrooms.
One student said, “I was personally terrified, it was scary and hard to go through. It went through a lot of kids’ heads. My own teacher didn’t know what to do.”
Winston said the administration is considering sending mass texts to the school community instead of emails to improve communication during such situations. Turner added that the school was thinking about making loudspeaker announcements during future fire drills to broadcast the cause of the alarm.
Another point of discussion was how the administration plans to handle the upcoming student walkout to protest gun laws on March 14. Turner said the school was supportive of students who want to be activists and that he “is hoping we are able to support a safe and inclusive event where students are not going to be penalized in terms of missing class and where teachers are supported.”
Faculty and staff were also vocal during the discussion. Spanish teacher Cristina Schulze asked how teachers can ensure that their students are safe and supported during the walkout, and “if teachers will be able to accompany their students.” Turner answered that “we’re going to support all teachers who want to be part of the event, and we will have a plan and location on campus for students who aren’t interested in doing the walkout.”
Mental health issues also came up repeatedly during the emotionally intense meeting. Senior Sam Kesselman said, “I think something more pre-emptive, like dealing with mental health at Newton North would be more effective. I know the person who’s in charge of your mental health at NNHS is also the person who writes your college recommendations and many students see that as an inherent contradiction in the system where kids don’t have someone to talk to.”
Turner said “Having educators being able to lock the school down isn’t necessarily going to make the school safer, but having good relationships and knowing your kids– that will make the school safer. I really feel good that we know you all and that you all love coming to North every day. That’s something we need to celebrate.”
Students concerned about the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida are planning this school’s participation in the national walkout to protest gun violence.
“It’s an issue we can’t afford to stay silent on and I’m not going to,” said junior Maya Lozinsky, one of the organizers of the event at North. She added, “When everyone in the school heard of the news, they were shocked at the atrocity.”
During this event, nationally organized by Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, students will walk out of school for 17 minutes in commemoration of the 17 victims in the shooting. At 10 a.m., students will take two minutes of silence to pay their respects to the MSD students. The event will officially end at 10:20 a.m. in time for students to head to their D-block class.
The walkout will take place Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m., one month after the shooting. Students will not be marked absent if they choose to walk out, and students who do not wish to participate will either stay in class, or be directed to the cafeteria if their teacher is walking out, according to vice principal Amy Winston.
Junior Maddy Ranalli, another one of the organizers of North’s walkout explained that the Parkland shooting hit close to home for many North students. “I think after Parkland people have realized this could happen here. Everyone deserves to have school be a safe place.”
Three stations will be set up to help kids show their support for the MSD community, according to Lozinsky.
One station will feature ways to contact legislators, one will feature a poster where students can leave their thoughts about school shootings, and the last will have a poster in support of MSD, Lozinsky said.
Conflict surrounding the space for buildings along Washington Street from Newton Corner to West Newton prompted a discussion about the future neighbors North might face, during a meeting organized by the Newtonville Area Council (NAC) on Thursday, Feb. 15.
Members of the NAC held a “Public Charrette,” or a city-wide open meeting, to discuss topics such as the housing demand Newton experiences. With the help of students from Babson College, the NAC plans on conducting a survey for the residents of Newton on the issues discussed today.
“In a desirable area, such as Newton, one can never satisfy the housing demand. The city’s own housing consultant report confirmed that Newton ‘cannot build its way to affordability,’” said Kathleen Kouril Grieser, a Newtonville resident and Newton Villages Alliance board member.
She added, “Adding high-density housing will not bring housing prices down. If it did, Manhattan, San Francisco, and Seattle would be some of the most affordable places to live, not some of the most expensive.”
Some community members, however, discouraged new construction completely, saying it would drive up the housing rent in the surrounding area.
Tim Stone, former member of the NAC and founder of Beautiful Newtonville, set up the program at Babson College where a select group of students will design a survey that goes out to the residents of Newtonville in order to get their opinion on the Washington Street corridor.
“The students have already been preparing and researching information for this survey,” he said. “Now they will be able to add what we learned here to it too.”
In three months, Kaufman hopes to have finished handing out the survey and started to meet with the community again in order to discuss everyone’s ideas in further detail.
“We are going to process all of these notes, then write a paper of everything we have learned,” said Marc Kaufman, one of the nine members of the NAC and a lead organizer for the Charrette, “The paper will later go to everyone that was here today and we’ll hold more meetings discussing if we need to make changes to the paper.”
The community members were split into six groups, rotating through the topics of transportation, housing, business mix, physical character, community impact and community benefits in order to hear everyone’s opinions and ideas.