Palmyra High School students send support to Parkland shooting survivors

Visit the Palmyra School District Facebook page to see all the schools are doing to educate students about the movement to tackle gun violence

The day alerts popped up on the phones of Palmyra High School staff and students telling of the 17 people who died in another school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the news was difficult to process. Kim Martino, school librarian and co-advisor of student council, put it out of her mind until she felt ready to digest the tragedy.

“For me, it was, ‘Not again.’ I put it off until the next day, and when I finally got all the information, I was disheartened and disgusted,” Martino said.

There was nothing anyone could do to erase the pain and suffering of those who witnessed the violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, but PHS was compelled to show its support. Martino and student council co-advisor Kelly Jones, moved by the response of the students at Parkland, helped council president Matt Yansick and his peers put together a banner to send to the survivors.

“I saw a photo that night, and I didn’t know what it was at first, but then I realized that it was students huddled in a corner while shots were coming in through the wall,” Yansick said. “We came in the next day, and we were working on it as fast as we could to get it down to the cafeteria for everyone to sign. We wanted it to be completed in time for them when they returned to school.”

“Peace. Love. Strength.” was the message painted on the ordinary roll of white paper, but its purpose was anything but. PHS students and staff also wrote letters to send to Stoneman Douglas along with the banner, which Martino said hung in the halls of the school along with others from across the country for the students’ return.

In small communities like Palmyra, the survivors’ activism has captured the hearts and attention of teachers and students, motivating them to support their cause and contemplate their own safety. Student council vice president Julia Adams said her stomach hurts thinking about the possibility of a shooting happening at PHS.

“I know the students have been criticized, but I think it’s a good thing. So many people are almost desensitized to it, and seeing their gut-wrenching reactions and how it affected them, I sat there and cried,” Jones said. “As a teacher, I can’t even imagine having that happen in my class. Going through my head, I thought, ‘Where would I hide my students if it happened here?’”

The hypotheticals are troubling, and at PHS, students, staff and administration have followed the movement for increased limitations on access to military assault weapons closely. Thanks to the Stoneman students’ bravery, Martino said, she feels action will be taken to protect schools from potential harm.

“Teenagers are like any other group of people — some of them are engaged and some of them aren’t. But never underestimate the ones that are,” she said.

PHS could not comment on future plans to participate in the movement or in the nationwide school walkout, but the student council members said the shooting and the grassroots mobilization and national conversation it spurred have made them more aware of the debate on gun control. While their personal politics varied, they and their council co-advisors feel more aware and empowered thanks to the response of the survivors.