SOMERSET, NJ - The Franklin Township School district turned a national tragedy into a teachable moment for the community.
"The kids did an excellent job, well planned, a great lesson in democracy, I am really proud of them," Superintendent of Schools, Dr. John Ravally said. "It is a teachable moment, one of our main missions is to promote active citizens. Citizens that are part of our ever-changing democracy and this is a great example of students coming together for the greater good, for what they believe in. It is part of our mission to support that."
In lieu of walking out for 17 minutes, more than 2,000 students gathered at the Franklin High School gymnasium to eulogize and show respect for the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Newly minted FHS Principal, Frank Chmiel opened up the ceremony reminding students how important it was to take away some of the lessons which would be discussed during the day's ceremony.
"You have a remarkable presentation in front of you that has been put together by your student leaders," Chmiel said. "They spent hours putting this together, for which they received neither money or recommendation, but they did this because they had a calling to do this. We hope that this presentation has an impact on you because you make a difference. It doesn't end here at Franklin High School, it continues on, and you never know who's life you save one day. So please listen, open your minds, open your hearts and think of the possibilities."
The FHS Warrior Battalion presented arms and accompanied student Ricky Francese, with the singing of the National Anthem.
FHS junior, Jerijah McCray collaborated with fellow students to partner with school officials to make the event a learning experience for the community at large.
"Discomfort births the greatest progress and we at Franklin High School are at the forefront, but the caveat is we have to support each other," McCray said. "We have to stand for each other, and more importantly we have to stand up for those who won't, and those who can't."
McCray and his fellow student leaders are looking to build on this moment and get more of their peers to get involved and to influence others to push for positive change.
"If you are wondering what you can do to make sure we make our schools a safer place, just start by speaking on what is right and push others to do so as well," FHS student, Kaelyn Baucul said. "Don't stop until we see a positive change throughout our country. Always remember the goal is to speak on it until our voices are heard loud and clear."
Sixteen FHS students and one teacher read the names of and shared biographical information on the 17 students killed last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Jason Marchitto, FHS, student assistance coordinator, told students to walk up after they walk out of the day's ceremony. He encouraged students to lend help to anyone they see struggling at the school.
FHS student, Sydney Wade also performed, Andra Day's, Rise Up.
"I think that since our teachers were part of this too, and a lot of change starts with them we will start to see more change," Baucul said to TAPinto.net. "I think the fact that they got to experience this and finally see that we are mature enough to handle these things, they will be more onboard in helping us get things like this out. Maybe we can start a new club. Or get more people interested in the existing clubs that address issues like this."
FHS student, Morgan Riddick challenged her fellow students to strive to have more meaningful conversations to prompt change.
FHS student, Anne Maria Buchhan reminded people of some of the most recent acts of gun violence and urged those that can to vote, and those that can't to let their loved ones know of the issues that are important to them.
"I think the event went amazing, we basically all came together and we all united," Buchhan said to TAPinto.net. "That was the whole point of this."
Chmiel closed out the event thanking all of the people responsible for making the event possible and reminded his students that they are Warriors and as such need to "let people know what a great school they go to."
Next week in Franklin there will be a community safety meeting at Franklin Middle School.
Hundreds of Somerville High School students participated in the National School Walkout Wednesday morning.
Students at the city high school and middle school left their classrooms Wednesday for ceremonies.
New Providence school officials wouldn’t allow a protest during school hours, but about 200 of its high school and middle school students walked out anyway.
In Belmar, students marched to a playground that had been dedicated for a parallel purpose — to serve as a living memorial to 6-year-old Avielle Richman who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.
In Wood-Ridge, high school and middle school students walked around the track for 17 minutes as the name of a Parkland victim who died in the shooting was read every minute.
In Westfield, about 1,000 students from three of its schools gathered outside.
South Plainfield High School students walked in support of gun reform.