Mt. Pleasant students stage 17-minute walk to promote school safety
As the stadium scoreboard counted down from 17 minutes, students at Mt. Pleasant Area Junior-Senior High School walked the track to raise awareness about school safety.
The event Monday was planned by four students in collaboration with district and high school administrators, as well as school board members.
"This is the starting point, we're not done with this," said 12th-grader Nick Secosky, one of the four students who worked on organizing the event. Secosky also serves as a student liaison to the school board.
The students walked around the track for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla. Mt. Pleasant is one of many schools around the country where students have planned events to support their peers in Florida.
Some Mt. Pleasant students and staff wore orange, the color worn nationwide to promote gun violence awareness.
About 150 of some 950 students at the school chose not to participate in the walk. Those students remained in the bleachers until dismissal.
The idea for the event started with 10th-grader Sarah Etling. She saw what students across the country were doing — moments of silence, marches, walkouts — and wanted to make a gesture at Mt. Pleasant Area to honor the Florida school victims, she said. She floated the idea with peers on social media; eventually, she linked up with Secosky and senior Julia Dengler, another student liaison to the school board, who were working on similar plans.
The students said the walk was not about making a political statement; rather, they hoped that they could raise awareness about school safety and start a conversation among students, parents, teachers and administrators.
"We're a small town," said senior Justin Chovanec, who also helped to plan the event. "There's nothing major that happens here. But yeah, it can still happen."
Chovanec and Secosky said that's the reason they are looking forward to working with administrators on ways to improve emergency drills. They've already suggested holding drills at different times of day, such as lunch time. They're also interested in motivating their peers to take drills more seriously.
Superintendent Timothy Gabauer said Monday's event was an attempt to be proactive and include students in conversations about school safety. As students' plans for an awareness event surfaced last week, he said, administrators decided to work with the students on organizing a school-wide activity.
"We're trying to let them know, 'We're with you,'" Gabauer said.
A letter about Monday's event was sent to parents Friday via the district's online messaging system, Gabauer said. The event took place during the daily activity period, a 25-minute period at the end of the school day when students can meet with teachers for extra help or attend clubs.
The awareness activity at Mt. Pleasant comes a week after high school and college students in Pittsburgh launched Facebook and Twitter accounts in support of the March for our Lives marches, which are scheduled to take place in cities nationwide on March. 24. Organizing for the student-led marches was started by students from Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in the days following the shooting.
"If they can have a voice, we can have a voice," Dengler of Mt. Pleasant said, adding that she thinks it's empowering to see young people's views represented.
Student liaisons to the school board such as Dengler and Secosky work with school directors on reviewing policies every month, board President John Sarnese said. Most recently, they've examined issues like the district's drug policy, homework burden and changing start times. Sarnese commended the student's efforts to take on school safety in light of recent national events.
"We're just happy that our kids are interested, and we want all the parents to know that safety is our biggest concern," Sarnese said.
Moving forward, administrators will put together a survey asking parents and students to weigh in on school safety issues, said Principal Ken Williams. The results will be shared with the school board and used to plan a public forum on the issue. Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.