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Wooster High School joins schools nationwide in walking out to protest violence

Wooster High School juniors Lexi Nolletti, left, and Alexis Florence are among the local students organizing a peaceful school walkout to honor the dead, protest school violence and stand up for safer schools.

Ellen Pill

On Valentine's Day a young man wielding an assault-style rifle walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 17 students and staff. Surviving students are speaking out against the shooting at their school and the alarmingly increasing attacks on schools across the country.
"We all have so many hopes and dreams," Wooster High School junior Alexis Florence said. "What if someone comes into my school and starts a violent event and I can't achieve them? Something has to be done."
High school students all over the country are listening and joining the outcry. "You might not be able to vote, but you can influence the world you live in," Florence said. "You have a voice. Use it."
Florence, along with another Wooster High School junior, Lexi Nolletti, are among the local students organizing a peaceful school walkout to honor the dead, protest school violence and stand up for safer schools.
On March 14 students across the world will walk out of their schools for 17 minutes. Over 185,000 students worldwide are expected to participate in the event.
"When we saw the Florida students speaking up, we thought this might be the tragedy that causes change," said Nolletti, who is her class vice president and a member of National Honor Society, speech and debate, drama club, and other service organizations. She plans to study neuroscience.
Florence also is interested in studying political science and writes for the high school newspaper, The Wooster Blade. Her debate area of extemporaneous speaking requires her to keep current with domestic news.
Florence said, "There is always talk when something happens, but the students in Florida taking a national lead helped a lot of us to feel like, 'All right. We can do it. Let's go!'"
Both students are quick to point out that "it wasn't just [them]" who got the ball rolling on planning the local walkout. Several people came up with the idea at once.
"I'm always reading the news for speech and debate," Florence said, "and we become numb to these tragedies. We can just say that it's politics and nothing is going to get done, but hearing the stories and watching the videos of the Florida students, I was really saddened and also angry that we let this happen. If we don't stand up, what if that's me or my friends?"
"We can't afford to live in fear," Nolletti said. "When I see all the new security measures we are implementing, I think it's terrible we have to do that just to get an education."
The event at Wooster High School will take place with the approval and assistance of school administrators. It is a school-only event. In the interest of safety, the community is not invited to participate or join with the students in any way.
"As much as we appreciate community support and participation, school safety comes first. That is what this is all about," Nolletti said.
During the 17 minutes the students are out of school, there will be a few words shared and a short march. "It's a show of unity and memorial to those 17 students and to all victims of school violence," Nolletti said.
"Our main goal is unity," Florence said. "It's so easy for something like this to be polarizing. Solidarity is the word."
The students are already looking ahead to continuing to make their voices heard. During the walkout they will carry positive signs with statements about unity, school safety and a commitment to ensuring that the violence doesn’t happen again. 
After the rally the signs will be posted in the school "to reinforce the message," Nolletti said, "so that it doesn't end after those 17 minutes," Florence said.
The event holds personal meaning to students. "For me it's about starting the discussion," Nolletti said, "about making sure students have an outlet for how they’re feeling. It's for students who want to do something and didn't know what to do or how to do it. It's a call to action, to get out there and affect change."
"Our community is capable of producing really good dialogue, and I think this could be the catalyst for this topic," Florence said.
Community members who want to support the students and join them in speaking out are invited to reserve Saturday, April 14. "It's one month from our walkout," Nolletti said. "We will hold a sister rally to the national March For Our Lives events happening nationwide in March."
The date for the national event occurs during the College of Wooster's spring break, so it was decided to delay Wooster's downtown rally until April.
The April 14 agenda will include student speakers and will focus on violence in schools, safety and unity. There also will be some musical entertainment.
"It will all be focused on the desire for change and for peace," Nolletti said.
The students plan to invite as many local officials as possible to participate. "We want this message to get across to the people," Florence said. "And we want students delivering it. It's bipartisan. Everyone wants safety and an end to violence."
"We're taking this one step at a time," Nolletti said. "Violence in schools is not an issue that will go away quickly or easily. The more effort we put forth, the more steps we take to raise awareness, the sooner change is going to come."
The juniors point out that they, along with their classmates and a vast majority of those currently in high school, will indeed be voting in 2020. In the meantime they will continue to speak up, speak out and make their voices heard.

Published: March 12, 2018
New Article ID: 2018180309957