Teen advocates

Students at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale participate in a walkout on Feb. 22 in memory of the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

For Maddie Schur, a sophomore at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, taking part in her school’s Feb. 22 walkout following the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was something she had to do.

“I needed to participate in it because I feel that no kid should have to fear for their life while they go to school,” Schur said. “It was also about honoring the victims of the school shooting in Parkland.”

Seventeen people, including four Jewish students and one Jewish teacher, were killed by a former student who had been expelled from the school. The 19-year-old’s weapon was an AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle. President Donald Trump has advocated arming “very adept people” to prevent more school shootings. During a meeting earlier this week with Trump, many governors from both parties argued against arming teachers. Others said states would make the decision whether to arm school staff.

Valley teens are joining their peers across the country in honoring victims of the Feb. 14 shooting — a movement that has become a viral phenomenon.

According to local news reports, hundreds of students at Valley high schools walked off their campuses last week to show solidarity with the Florida students and to send a message that they have a say in the country’s future by speaking up for changes in gun control laws.

The day after the walkout, students at Desert Mountain started publicizing ways to contact members of Congress, and Schur noticed students trying to call their representatives during lunch.

She said her “Twitter feed was flooded with students from my school trying to contact their representatives.”

On Feb. 23, students at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale had planned to gather on the school’s field for 17 minutes of silence in honor of the 17 victims. After a few minutes, the observance was cut short by administration, and students were told to return to class, according to junior Sarah Hughner. Many people stayed on the field to finish the 17 minutes of silence and then about 300 people walked off the campus in protest, she said.

Hughner is the vice president of her school’s Young Democrats Society, which is planning on participating in the National High School Walkout scheduled for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. The walkout, which protests gun violence in schools, is being coordinated by Lane Murdock, a Connecticut teen whose friend was a fifth-grade survivor of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 children and six adults.

“We’re meeting with the district and going through all the precautions to make sure we’re going to be able to do this safely with the support of the school,” said Hughner, who is also the social action vice president for Temple Kol Ami’s youth group, KATY. “It’s important that we recognize that walking out isn’t enough. Walking out is only the means to gaining the attention of our congressmen.”

Hughner stressed the importance of having a dialogue about gun control issues and avoiding heated debates, and instead trying “to understand the ideology of the other side. … That’s the only way we’ll be able to get things done.”

Another National School Walkout is being planned for March 14 by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group, which is encouraging teachers, students, administrators, parents and allies to walk out at 10 a.m. (in their own time zones) for 17 minutes in memory of each of the victims. Chaparral is not participating in that event because it takes place during the school’s spring break, Hughner said.

In the days following the Feb. 14 shooting, student survivors from the Florida high school started the Never Again movement to advocate for stricter background checks for gun buyers and began planning the March for Our Lives, scheduled for March 24 in Washington, D.C.

Hughner said that members of the Young Democrats Society are planning to march at the Arizona state capitol in downtown Phoenix that day.

Zev Turner, president of Temple Kol Ami’s KATY, said he wishes he “could say that [the Florida shooting] was an eye-opening event that came out of nowhere and nothing ever like it has happened before, but it’s so common.”

“There have been so many murders. … It’s absolutely appalling that people can just walk into a store and buy a gun and go do whatever they want,” he added. “It’s scary and it makes the world feel a little bit less safe.”

Two national Jewish youth conferences were held during the weekend after the Feb. 14 shooting — a national NFTY leadership conference at a camp in Bruceville, Texas, and the BBYO International Convention (IC) in Orlando.

Schur attended the NFTY convention and said there were many discussions about the shooting and gun control, and what can be done next. NFTY is the youth organization for the Reform movement and one of the shooting victims, ninth-grader Alyssa Alhadeff, had attended one of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) summer camps. The Mourner’s Kaddish was said for the victims at services throughout the weekend, Schur said.

BBYO’s conference started on the day after the shooting and 59 teens from the BBYO’s Mountain Region, which encompasses Arizona, Nevada and Utah, were among the 3,000 Jewish teens in attendance, along with nine students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Our teens felt a direct connection to this tragedy and to those in attendance at IC who were there when the shooting occurred,” according to Barrie McAlister, senior regional director of Mountain Region BBYO.

Shelby Miller, a member of Tovah BBG who attended the IC, said the “overall mood being so close to the community in which this tragedy occurred really broke my heart. We listened to so many speakers talk about how our generation needs to step up and make a difference. Being surrounded by 3,000 of my peers made me feel like we really can make an impact. Knowing that I was in the same room with so many people affected by this horrific event really hit close to home.”

Sabrina Newman of Tovah BBG, who also attended the BBYO convention, said that “listening to the speakers at IC talk about standing up for what they believe in gave me encouragement and made me feel like I can and should speak up for what I believe in, and support others who are working toward a similar goal.”

What stood out most to Abe Rosenthal of Jonas Salk AZA was the “tremendous response and action from teens around the country.”

“Seeing this high of a level of response from teenagers, where in the world we live in now adults don’t achieve this kind of production due to stubbornness, partisanship and conflicting ideas and beliefs, was truly an optimistic and reassuring sight for the future,” he said. JN

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