TOPSHAM

Much like others across the country, Mt. Ararat High School students have been getting an immersive civics lesson during the last month.

In response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a national walkout planned for March 14 drew interest from Midcoast students. That included some from Mt. Ararat — which dealt with a pair of reported threats in the days following the Flordia incident.

Though the high school didn’t initially have plans for a student walkout in conjunction with the nationwide protests, that changed once students realized that was the case.

Senior Ivy Dennen,18, said when she checked the national website organizing the event and Mt. Ararat was not included, talks with fellow students quickly turned into action. After creating a group and connecting on social media, the members of their committee met with Principal Donna Brunette and the school’s resource officer to discuss logistics for a walkout.

The meeting happened on a Monday, two days before the planned walkout. The committee members worked to create fliers, and senior Mae Flibotte created a letter of intent to share on social media with the community.

“As high schoolers we understand how information can get misconstrued quite a bit,” said Flibotte, 18. “We decided very early on to write a letter of intent outlining what we believed our demonstration was going to represent.

“We were trying to express it was a neutral event, not political,” she added, “and how it was more of a memorial for the Parkland Students more than anything else.”

Despite the effort to calm political attention surrounding the event, the group was met with backlash: Some students — and parents — spoke out against the action. Student organizers said comments ranged from those voicing opposing viewpoints to others making personal attacks.

“The thing that bothered me the most was parents were saying just stop bullying in school,” said 18-yearold Senior Dalton Streeter. “But the parents were bullying us on social media.”

“The walkout was a neutral event, but I know we all have our own opinions and are pretty like-minded,” said Dennen. “I would love to talk about what we can do to make school safer and make sure guns are in the hands of responsible owners, but I want to push that the walkout was a neutral event.”

Despite the backlash, the students remain undeterred. They estimated 200- 250 high school students joined in the walkout. Streeter spoke at a unity march in Brunswick on Feb. 17. Flibotte made the trip to Washington, D.C. on March 24 for the student-led March of Our Lives event.

“Everything they were saying was just so amazing and so poignant,” said Flibotte. “It was all students — there wasn’t a single adult speaker, we realized afterwards. I found myself crying six or seven times because it was so powerful.”

And they’re continuing to speak out in an effort to affect change.

A group of five Mt. Ararat high schoolers met with local legislators — Maine House Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell — to talk about the walkout and the future of school safety.

Dennen shared the fear felt among students when Maine School Administrative District 75 was responding to threats following the Parkland shooting.

“I remember being in a classroom with two other people and being like ‘should I call someone?” she said. “Should I get into contact with someone to make sure they know I love them?”

Flibotte said the student senate has brought up the idea of active shooter response training, something the group agreed they would like to see. In addition to being active within their school, they plan to use their vote to create the change they would like to see.

Streeter recalled chants to vote at the Brunswick march.

“We chanted ‘vote,’” he said “It’s just awesome to see how many people are on board and ready to make a change.”

Berry agreed with the sentiment.

“If young people all voted, this country would look a lot different,” he told the students.

Berry praised the students for the work they’ve already done, and said encouraged them to write to local newspapers to help spread their message. Berry also shared news with the students about a proposed bill, known as the “red flag” that would enable courts to prevent high risk individuals from obtaining firearms.

“I get a bunch of emails from people saying don’t take our guns away, but when I respond and tell them about this legislation they’re OK with it because there’s a court process,” said McCreight. “They respect this idea.”

She told the students they were making an impact not only in schools, but in their surrounding communities.

“Look at the difference you’re making,” McCreigh said. “We weren’t moving forward, now we’re getting somewhere.”



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