“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”
These are the words sung in the cold morning of March 14th, at 10 a.m., during the walkout at Mount Shasta High School, which was held to honor the 17 lives ended in the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and to protest the “Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
Almost all the students of the school took part in the protest, and parents with kids from the elementary school came too. The MSHS jazz choir sang “Imagine” by John Lennon.
It was held an exact month after the 14th of February, when Nikolas Cruz, 19 years old, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, came back to his school, opening fire, killing 17 people and wounding others.
The MSHS event lasted about 17 minutes. Some students took photographs, some interviewed people for class projects.
Statements in this article were made during interviews that started about a week before the walkout.
Many debates and discussions have been opened since the Florida shooting, and protests all over the country are demanding more restrictive gun laws, complaining about the fact that the 19-year-old shooter got his AR-15 legally. Others counter by saying people are to be blamed, not guns, which can be useful if wisely used.
Mount Shasta High School’s participation in the national school walkout on March 14 initiated discussions between students and staff/faculty members. There is a huge range of opinions.
The fact that school shootings have increased within the last years is something everybody agrees on, including the school’s principal Sati Shah. “It seems like as time has gone on since Columbine, it’s just become exponentially more and more,” he said.
Art teacher Melody Shah highlighted the bad example that our reality is for our teens: “Young people here have never been alive when there hasn’t been an armed conflict by our country... which I’m sure has some lasting effects on the psyche of our youth.” She also thinks the Internet and social media have a big influence, that “the free flowing of information” could be positive and dangerous at the same time, mentioning copycat killings and other accidents caused by wrong examples.
“We are totally immature and we don’t think about what our actions cause; our brain is not fully developed yet, it’s biological” is the opinion of Louraine Bohme, an exchange student from Tangermünde, Germany. Even if it’s teenagers’ nature to be instinctively incautious and emotional, she noticed that the situation got worse recently and that “the definition of ‘extreme’ has changed, because we need always more to be satisfied.”
The most obvious question that many people are asking themselves is where is the answer, the solution.
“I don’t know what the magic answer is,” says Barbara Porteous, Mount Shasta High School’s counselor, who declared that in a complicated situation like this, we can make hypotheses, but it’s hard to have a final answer.
“America is a really unique combination of laws, rules and cultures that exist just in one spot,” said science teacher John Spaulding, talking about the big dimension and diversity of the US as factors that make conflicts here more frequent.
The majority of those interviewed agree that one of the biggest problems is the inefficiency of mental health facilities and the lack of ways for people to express themselves.
“America is angry right now, whether that’s politically based or frustration caused by the economy maybe,” says music teacher Gregory Eastman, highlighting the change of the society’s attitude, a possible cause of conflicts and violence. “Ten, fifteen years ago we had facilities for people with mental health issues. Most of them have been closed down because they weren’t funded properly, so there’s no place for those people that need that kind of help to go.”
Principal Shah affirms that “access to weapons of war is something that we need to be talking about, how we support our students is something we have to be talking about, the way to keep our school secure is something we have to be talking about. All of those are important pieces ... we need to put our kids first ... their emotional success, not just academical.”
The concern of children’s protections is what worries almost all the adults interviewed for this article, and many options have been offered, especially after Florida lawmakers approved a bill to arm teachers and staff members or hire bodyguards and police officers.
Although, discordant points of view are competing on this matter, Mr. Spaulding reminds: “Teachers have to teach,” claiming that guns should be used by people that have professional skills and training.
“It’s very strange that when a group of teenagers come out to voice their opinion, things go in the opposite way. We don’t want more accessible guns, we want less” are the words of the student Abby Andrus, a senior and member of leadership.
Ms. Porteous thinks an important factor is communication with the students.
Nikolas Cruz was one of those teens that we would define as a loner, “disconnected from the whole,” said John Spaulding.
The school counselor insisted on how important it is to make every student feel welcome and understood. “It seems like when people do this, they do it because they feel alienated... We always tell students, if you hear something, say something. We take anything that threats the safety of a student seriously,” she declared, saying that dialogue is one of the aspects that the school doesn’t have to underrate.
Some students, on the contrary, seem to feel more protected, knowing about the presence of guns at school, in the right hands of course. Senior Valerie Chang thinks that “Teachers should be trained and have guns in the classroom, because it could decrease the number of lost lives a lot... or some other kinds of arms, like tasers.”
The debates and discussions are invading our medias, but one thing is sure: “We have to find our common ground, that is students, kids’ safety... we want to have a strong next generation,” said Principal Shah. “We need to be investing in our students, to make them become positive adults.”
Senior Quincie Cross, a leadership member, said, “I think the reason why shootings are so spread throughout our country is the lack of gun control. Mentally ill people have been allowed to get guns. I don’t think these military great weapons should be available to the public.”
Of different opinion is a massive portion of the students: “No matter what the government does, if it puts the gun law out, it’s not going to stop the bad guys from having them... they’re not just going to disappear automatically,” insists Hunter Stock, a junior. “It’s people’s fault, not guns’ fault... more background checks is the only solution.”
He mentions the second amendment and the definition of “free Americans” given by the Constitution, as the demonstration that any kind of gun has to be open to the public.
Some other points of view are in a more neutral position, like Jedidiah Drew, who thinks that some kinds of semiautomatic weapons are right to not be allowed until age 21. “They need to check social media more” he adds, sharing that they could have caught the shooter in Florida if his Instagram profile would have been checked.
All of this chaos in the political field drove to many misunderstandings on the reasons behind the walkout.
“The guns law starts this huge debate between people, so we try to stay away from that... the walkout is against the Congress’ inaction and to honor the victims,” insists Quincie Cross.
Abby Andrus claims “everyone has his own reason individually why they’re gonna walkout ... we’re just giving the school an opportunity to recognize that something really sad has happened and there is a want to change it.”
Mount Shasta High School and community has been defined as a safe place by almost everybody, since the small-town atmosphere allows a strong connection between the citizens. At the same time, changes and precautions have been demanded here too, to make those 17 lives ended a lesson to learn from.
• Giulia Ciarlantini is an exchange student at Mount Shasta High School from a little town called Porto Recanati on the coast, in the center of Italy. She wrote the piece above as part of her senior project.