In a special episode, host Joel Gagne speaks with five student leaders from New Albany-Plain Local School District in Ohio. They not only participated in the national school walkout on Wednesday but have plans to attend the March For Our Lives event in Columbus later this month.
One of the students said she and her peers realized the need for change following the shooting in Parkland, Florida—at a school that’s similar to New Albany’s high school.
“I think we all agreed on the fact that we need change in our society,” the student says. “We wanted to make a difference and make a change, use our voices and make our statements heard.”
The message from students in New Albany was to call attention to lax gun laws.
One of the students says the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 was actually a turning point in terms of school safety discussions and feeling fear inside classrooms.
“That was the first one that I think a lot of us remember very distinctly,” the student says. “I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, how I found out and what my immediate reaction was to the Sandy Hook shooting.”
The issue of student safety, gun violence and mental health is no less concerning in the wealthy New Albany school district.
“I think that just because this is a wealthier neighborhood and community doesn’t mean anything, really,” a student says. “We’re still affected a lot by lax gun control.”
The students tell Joel about how Wednesday’s walkout unfolded.
School leadership was accommodating, although not formally supportive, and there was a two-hour delay to the school day.
“We did everything we could to coordinate as much as possible for safety reasons,” one of the students tells Joel. “The school was really amazing about it. They gave us the space to do it and they really coordinated with us.”
Students went to their classes and put down their backpacks and other belongings. They met at a focal point of the high school and passed out posters and ribbons, before walking outside and completing a loop that ended in front of the library. Students made speeches at the top of the stairs.
Joel talks with one of the students about how she spoke in front of the district’s board of education on Monday evening, proposing a resolution for better access to mental health services.
Joel asks how the students will stay involved with the issue moving forward, even as the 18-year-olds near graduation. Many of them will attend March for Our Lives on the 24th in downtown Columbus. They are writing to elected representatives and will reconvene at next month’s board of education meeting to follow the resolution.
The students say they want to leave New Albany safer for those who follow them. That includes better access to the counselors, who are stretched thin in providing both emotional support and college/career preparation services.
“Instead of spending our budget money on guns for the teachers, we need to be spending it on hiring more mental health professionals, therapists, counselors,” one student tells Joel.
There needs to be increased mental health awareness in schools, and students should feel more comfortable going to their counselors. One of the students suggests local change will lead to state and then national change.
Closing out the special episode, the students say safety in schools through improved mental health services and common-sense gun legislation is not a partisan issue.
“To put it bluntly, we’re dying,” one student says. “You need to recognize the fact that our lives are more important than your right to own a firearm that you do not need.”
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