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Marjory Stoneman Douglas: 1 Year Later

Today, Valentine’s Day 2019, marks one year since the life-changing tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the wake of these events, communities in South Florida and the entire nation turned their attention to the bravery and resilience of the victims following the shooting that ended the lives of 14 young students, full of potential and 3 brave teachers.

From the ashes of the massacre emerged an unstoppable mission for justice, awakening a sense of activism among people from all walks of life which remains strong even as we mourn the loss of precious lives from Stoneman Douglas. The fever of this activism reached John A. Ferguson Sr High when through the support of various school organizations such as the Fusion Dance Troupe, the Psychology Honour Society, and students advocating for the #NeverAgain and #MSDStrong movements we were able to express our condolences and offer support to our affected peers. This senseless act of violence also assured action be taken at Ferguson to prevent such a tragedy from happening at our school.

Since the massacre, students all over the country have experienced changes in their schools in the form of added security measures. Everything from bag checks, metal detectors and, if you attend a school in Miami-Dade, ‘Hard Corners’, have become the new normal. Some of these changes have been welcomed by the student body while others have received some backlash.

For example, shortly after the MSD shooting, students were forced to use clear backpacks that revealed their personal belongings but did little to prevent another active shooter. At Ferguson, some of the preventative measures that have been implemented in the past year include: school-issued ID’s on at all times, an increase in school security officers and the district-mandated ‘Hard Corners’.

Essentially, a hard corner is the safest place in a classroom in the case of an active shooter and somewhere meant to protect students. Although these district and school mandates were implemented with the best of intentions some students believe that there could be more done and that these new regulations don’t make for a safer learning environment.

Principal Rafael Villalobos addressed these issues and the changing role of our school in actively preventing mass tragedies. “We have taken a lot of initiatives, as you know, like Sandy Hook and HIP,” he says, crediting two of Ferguson’s most influential mental health initiatives.

John A. Ferguson’s Psychology Honor Society has been at the forefront of mental health awareness, specifically through their pioneer introduction of the Sandy Hook Promise. Ferguson was the first school in Miami to introduce this program, started by parents and those affected by a 2012 mass school shooting where 20 children and 6 adults lost their lives.

The Sandy Hook Promise, named after and founded in the wake of yet another, previous mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, aims to teach adults, students, and staff members of schools to learn and recognise the signs of gun violence and how to act before another senseless tragedy so no one will ever have to suffer loss so great again. HIP (Health Information Project), another great resource for students that targets all forms of wellness, including mental health, aims to empower students with knowledge about a variety of different situations, especially those regarding the well-being of themselves and others.

“We have alternative resources to make sure students understand that there are outlets that you can go talk to, that there are people that you can express if you have hardships or feelings of isolation,” says Mr. Villalobos, making sure that his students’ safety and well-being is a top priority.

Students here at John A. Ferguson also felt the impact of the events at Stoneman Douglas, especially when reflecting on how their lives in our own school have changed in the wake of the tragedy.

“When I heard about the school shooting at MSD I was both shocked and devastated,” says senior Angello Furigay. “While it hasn’t affected me in an outward sense, it has definitely opened my eyes. It’s made me realize that even the worst things could happen in places we take for granted as being safe.”

Many students and staff feel this way, as if the MSD events took their school, somewhere they cherished as a place of safety and learning, and opened their eyes to what we must do to protect it. Junior Andrea Salazar echoes the sentiment, stating that since the shooting at MSD, “There’s been a sense of dread and mourning,” prevalent in our own community.

Many students like senior Brenden Gonzalez believe that “Bullying and social isolation are one of the main driving factors of individuals wanting to induce harm onto other students.” This is something Ferguson’s outreach and awareness programs like the Sandy Hook Promise try to address and prevent, but is it enough?

EKG Technician instructor, Mr. Robert Alvarez says that these added security measures are not enough. “I think they should put metal detectors at the entrances of the school and that’ll be an added sense of security. I think there should be more police officers present,” he says, reflecting on how distraught he was at the news of the MSD shooting, saying it resonated with him because he is a parent himself.

However, Mr. Alvarez, like many others, recognizes that schools simply don’t get enough funding for the optimum security measures to be implemented. Senior student Abigail Caballero supported this by saying, “There’s not much we can do, the school doesn’t really get enough money.”

Theatre teacher Ms. Tabitha Sanabria says that “People are more aware of their surroundings and situations so I think overall we’ve gotten better with security. There’s always more we can do, but I think there’s been a lot of improvements… I think we’re doing the best we can with what we have.”

This sentiment is common among Ferguson’s population and although the shooting one year ago today affected us deeply, there has been local change and many believe that small change, such as mandating IDs and implementing outreach, is better than no progress at all.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre and the school shootings prior have taught us the importance of valuing our learning space. With incentives like HIP and the Sandy Hook Promise, the stigma around mental health has lifted substantially, enough that more students feel safe in our school. The extra security measures that have been taken at schools around the country help students and faculty feel more prepared in the case of another catastrophe.

We hope that no school, including our own John A. Ferguson Senior High School, will ever have to face such a senseless tragedy. We hope to always be there to support our brothers and sisters from Marjory Stoneman Douglas to help them move forward with the weight of their losses, and to unite students, staff, and community members around the nation to push for permanent change to honor the legacy and strength of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

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