Sydney Hicks. Photo by Melissa O’Brien.

Peter Trembly. Photo by Melissa O’Brien.

Six students at Champlain Valley Union District High School (CVU) (and one who weighed-in via email) gathered recently to discuss their responses to the mass shooting at Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14.

All of the students agreed that their initial reaction to the news of the shooting was that it was “just another in a long line of school shootings,” but that this one, this time, has become a game-changer, with the voices of so many students being heard now. “Newtown changed things,” said Lucien Theriault, a senior from Williston, referring to the  2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in which twenty children and six staff members were killed, “but it didn’t really hit until Florida, when I saw the videos of the students who were actually in the room when the shooting was happening. I was able to imagine that happening here, in this setting.”

Each of the students expressed a sense of feeling safe here in Vermont, describing this place as  “a good community with strong values.” Still, there was an undercurrent of understanding that a shooting could happen anywhere. “No one ever thinks it’s going to happen where it happens,” Sydney Hicks, a sophomore from South Burlington said, “my grandparents live in a nursing home two blocks away from the Parkland High School.”

“The only way you can fix the problem is culturally,“ senior class President Roark Flad of Shelburne offered. And then, in a voice beyond his years added, “we need to face this idea of a culture of toughness. We’re told that the workplace will be a place where people are rude and mean. It’s not true. We can be a culture of love.”

The students spoke of the atmosphere of their school, of their concern that the drills they practice “aren’t going to save your life if someone enters this building with an assault rifle” and of the ways school shootings have changed their personal habits. “I look around to see where I would go if there was a shooter in the building,” said Theriault. “It worries me sometimes when I see someone wearing a hood,” added Hicks.

When asked what advice they might offer to an older generation they suggested that parents be honest and open with their kids. “If you have a child and they know about any of the school shootings, there’s some fear there. Talk to them about what’s happening, educate them,” was their advice.

All of the students were aware that Vermont has some of the most lenient gun laws in the United States and they expressed hope and gratitude that Governor Phil Scot is “changing his stance” in regards to background checks and the possibility of a Red Flag Law that would allow family members and law enforcement to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order, a court order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to self or others.

The students spoke of their fatigue with being told by adults that they are the generation that is going to fix things. “This isn’t a generational issue, this isn’t a political issue, this is a human issue,” was the consensus in the room. “This most recent school shooting is making me seriously evaluate the power of my own voice in being able to bring awareness to issues such as this,” wrote sophomore Hannah Frasure, in an email send to the News. To which Peter Trombley, a senior from Shelburne added, “Every generation has grown up thinking about all the things the previous generations have done wrong. For us it’s been climate change and gun safety. A lot of people my age have felt unheard, discredited because we’re young. But we care, so much. And a lot of us are very afraid. And that’s a failure on all of our parts. But it’s something we want to fix. Together.

The actions of the students from Parkland who are speaking out and rallying has energized these CVU students. “I plan to walk out of school on March 14 as a part of the national walk-outs being held all over the country. This is because I would like to show I am not complicit in the mass murder of school children, and that any school, regardless if it is mine or one in Florida, should not be a place where there is a threat to our life,” added Frasure.

The CVU students are working with fellow-students from Essex, South Burlington, Middlebury and Mount Mansfield high schools in planning for the walk-out on March 14, when they will stand in silence for 17 minutes to honor the lives lost at Stoneham High School. “We are doing community outreach in conjunction with a group of moms from Newton, Connecticut in planning an event for April 20, the ten-year anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, and we are hoping to send a bus to Montpelier and possibly some students to Washington, D.C. on March 24 to participate in the March For Our Lives rallies,” explained Trombley.

The conversation the students shared touched on everything from personal liberties to reasons for owning a gun, fear, love, hope, political activism and how to affect change. “Now we have a lot of momentum from the students of Parkland,” said Sydney Vincent, a Charlotter, “Now is the time when there is hope for a change.”