Upon hearing the news of the deaths at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, I and several of my colleagues discussed how we and our students might respond as a school to this tragedy. Encouraged by a letter by Br. Kevin Griffith and our administration we began to plan a march in protest to gun violence and support for the victims and their families.
Using this as our focal point, ideas began to take form. We were faced with several scheduling challenges: spring break, a field trip for our eighth-graders, and Iowa standardized testing. This limited our scheduling options. Time became precious with April 6th becoming set as our target date. This was also a day we had previously scheduled for our annual service day. In line with our focus, we prepared materials to honor and name victims of Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, and, of course, Marjory Douglas High School. We wished to also honor the many unnamed children who have also been victims of gun violence in schools since Columbine.
We did not wish to merely give students the opportunity to ‘walk out of class’ in protest. Our plan instead involved several activities. As GRMS has a House System, our House groups in their normally scheduled meeting times, Edmundians, Matel, and Champagnat, prepared posters and banners in the weeks leading up to our target date. Each student prepared a small poster with the name of a victim, which they wore during our march. Reflections were prepared by our seventh-grade students in their Social Studies class. Students also had time to reflect and learn about the purpose of the day in our House meetings.
Our day began with students assembling in our cafeteria. Seventh-graders were selected to begin the day presenting their reflections before the student body. Following this, we formed into our House groups, each with their posters and banners. Each student wore the poster with the name of one of the victims throughout the walk. Faculty members and parents who accompanied us wore a poster with the symbol “?” to represent un-named victims.
Accompanied by a police escort, we began our walk through parts of downtown Brownsville. Our stops included the Federal Court House, Cameron County Court House, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. We stopped outside the cathedral to pray a decade of the Rosary and for prayerful, silent reflection. After about ten minutes we left with our police and returned back to the school for a short water break.
After a short rest we convened at our parish church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, for a short memorial service. Our House Captains read several prepared statements. They then began a meditative reading of the names of victims from Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Marjory Douglas. We also paused to remember the many other children victims of gun violence whose lives were cut short.
After a period of silent prayer, we returned to the school cafeteria where students had the opportunity to write reflections about the morning using a series of writing prompts that were prepared by some members of the staff.
As Catholics we are called upon to protect the sanctity of life. As a Catholic school we are called upon to help students discuss important issues and develop critical thinking skills. While students were given the option to not participate, all students took part in conversations and reflections leading up to the event about gun violence, the sanctity of life, and other important current events related to the Church and our country.