The cards read, “Thinking of you,” “Everything is going to be Okay,” “You’re in our prayers,” “Stay strong” and “May love be what you remember.”
But, these are not sentiments found in a Hallmark store. They are found in the hearts of Brookfield students and are going to students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman opened fire Feb. 14, killing more than a dozen students and injuring even more.
High school aide Jen Schultz said her students have been talking about the events in Wakeland and she came across on Facebook a request from a Parkland teacher for handwritten cards and letters for her students.
“I thought, ‘This would be a great way to channel some of that energy and make them feel good about themselves,’” Schultz said.
Using markers, colored pencils and pens, Brookfield students shaped their messages. Low tech, but high emotion.
Senior Samantha Smith said she hopes to show the Stoneman students that there are people who care about them.
“In time of need, everyone will come together and try to help out as much as possible, try to make people feel better,” she said.
“I want them to know that they’re in our prayers and they’ll always be remembered,” said senior Marrea Provitt.
Marcus Townsend said he and Emily Porter are trying to organize a student response to the tragedy. He said he has heard Stoneman students talk about the tragedy and got a sense that they don’t feel government officials are listening to them.
“I just want them to know they’re not alone in this and there’s a lot of people standing behind them and what they believe in and that they should keep doing what they’re doing and not give up because people won’t listen to them,” Emily said. “The fact that they’re fighting so hard when they could just be completely broken down is really admirable and I am really, really into that, love that, and that’s why I’m doing this, to encourage that.”
The students said they feel safe at Brookfield, but there’s no guarantee that something like what happened in Parkland won’t occur here.
“You never know what could happen,” Samantha said. “I don’t have any fears. I feel like it’s a pretty safe place, but you can always improve.”
That’s why Brookfield school officials and police held a lockdown drill Feb. 23, said Superintendent Velina Jo Taylor.
“Teachers and kids both said we think we need some more practice because we hadn’t done it in a while,” she said.
The drill pointed out some deficiencies, she said.
“We almost always find some doors that are not locked,” Taylor said. “We did today, and that worries me.”
Administrators plan to hold another drill – that will be unannounced – and training for staff and students. Taylor said teachers will be taught how to work the public address system so they can call for a lockdown if the need arises.
High school Principal Adam Lewis held an assembly Feb. 28 to introduce students to STOPit!, a phone app in which they can anonymously report incidents of bullying, harassment, threats or other safety issues to administrators.
The app is free to download, he said.
“I hope they download it and use it,” Lewis said.
Although her job is to help students make academic progress, Schultz said she also looks out for their emotional well-being.
“I had (a student) this morning that came in crying,” Schultz said Feb. 23. “He was having an anxiety attack because we’re having this drill. You just kind of tell them, we’re trying to be proactive instead of reactive. We have fire drills, we’ve never had a fire. We have tornado drills, we’ve never had a tornado. It’s just so, you know, have something in that mind if something were to occur.”
When students bring up something like the Parkland tragedy, Schultz said she allows them to express their thoughts, but also tries to present a positive message.
“I don’t try to get into any of the laws and the guns, any of that discussion,” she said. “I try to more talk to them about their feelings about it. A week or two ago, we had a ‘Be Kind’ week. I try to bring that back up. Be the nicer person. Be nice to somebody.”