SOMERVILLE, NJ – Hundreds of Somerville High School students participated in the National School Walkout Wednesday morning to pay their respects to the 17 victims of last month’s mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. and to draw attention to the issue of students' safety while in school.
The students gathered outdoors on the track in front of the football bleachers and observed a moment of silence after each of the 17 victims’ names and a short biography of each individual were read aloud.
Police and school officials, including Dr. Timothy Teehan, superintendent of schools, stood by as students walked from the school to the athletic field. All were equipped with hand-held two-way radios.
Somerville police and school officials were posted around the perimeter of the football field.
The football scoreboard at the southern end of the football field began ticking off 17 minutes as each of the victims’ names were displayed.
Student organizers handed off a megaphone to one another as each victim’s name was read along with snippets about each of them:
“He was into sports, art and hip hop.”
“He was just a great kid, cared about everybody else.”
“She was caring and compassionate, and was a member of the JROTC and color guard.”
“He put others before himself.”
“She was a National Merit Finalist but she died not knowing that; the notice of her accomplishment arrived in the mail the day after she was killed.”
“He was in JROTC and was killed in his uniform while holding the door for others.”
The short observance concluded with student leaders sharing a short message with their classmates, pronouncing their desire for change and urging everyone to keep their eyes open and to report anything suspicious to school officials.
The students also acknowledged the support of the Somerville school administration and their assistance in helping to plan the observance and thanked principal Jerry Foley, other administrators and teachers for their vigilance in ensuring their safety while in school.
Several blocks away, students at Immaculata High School on Mountain Boulevard held a prayer service in remembrance of the Florida shooting victims.
Not all SHS students chose to participate. Period 4 classes continued inside the school, which has an enrollment oif 1,200.
On Tuesday, Foley released a letter to the parents and guardians of the students, which reads, in part:
“Over the past couple of weeks, the administration has been meeting with members of the student body who wish to participate in this movement. The discussions were productive and meaningful and I am proud of their thoughtful and mature approach to such a sensitive issue.
“Our dialogue featured safety as a main priority, but also extended to the consideration of opposing viewpoints and beliefs. While as a school we do not endorse one single viewpoint over another, we do expect that all viewpoints be respected so that all students feel comfortable whether they choose to participate in this walkout or not.”
Melissa McEntee, director of the school’s 21st Century Education initiative and SHS School Safety Specialist coordinated planning with the students, school administration and police.
“We’re really proud of the students,” she said. “They showed true leadership and compassion for the people who lost their lives in Florida.”
Foley paused outside of his office after the students had come off the field and returned to their classes.
“The kids did a great job and we were prepared,” he said.