MERIDEN — Onil Carrion on Wednesday summed up the feelings of many following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas eight days earlier.
The 18-year-old Maloney High School senior called it “heightened awareness.” A total of 19 schoolchildren and two educators were killed in the shooting.
“Right now we are all aware of what’s going on. And we’re saying, ‘Go, sign petitions. Go do this. Do that,’” Carrion said.
As time progresses, the heightened awareness subsides, Carrion said. So he and fellow student leaders at Maloney hope to inspire longer lasting action.
“We have to keep moving forward,” Carrion said.
A group of Maloney seniors, led by Rory Cassidy and Camryn Burns, approached the school’s administration about holding a walkout to express their feelings and honor the victims in the May 24 Texas shooting. On Wednesday morning, joined by Maloney staff and school resource officers, the majority of the student body gathered on the football field.
They signed their names on large banners, one of which will be sent to Robb Elementary School. Along with their names, students wrote messages of support.
Cassidy, 17, said she contacted one of her teachers after learning about a national school walkout day last week. She wanted to know if Maloney would allow students to hold such an event. Then she reached out to peers to see if they’d be interested as well.
Cassidy described repeated mass shootings, particularly in schools, as “frustrating.”
“The same thing keeps happening,” she said.
Cassidy and Carrion, joined by classmates Burns, Daejon Nixon and Miguel Cardona Jr., led the effort. Each took turns addressing peers from a podium on the football field.
Burns read a letter written by the daughter of a teacher who died in the Uvalde shooting. The 17-year-old said reading the letter was emotional because her mother is a teacher.
“I felt it was good for our students to see how something like this affects the families of victims,” Burns said.
Nixon, who is 18, spoke of the resources peers can seek out if they need support. Those include Maloney’s own in-school clinic, along with calling 211 or 911.
“It’s really important to let students know what resources they have to help them out,” Nixon said.
Cardona shared his perspective on the shooting.
“I’m just one perspective out of millions around the country,” he said. “I wanted to stray away from politics and gun laws.
“This isn’t a political problem to be solved. So I talked about humanity and being kind,” he added.
They were in middle school in February 2018, when the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida occurred. They were in elementary school in December 2012, when students around their ages were killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Safety is a top-of-mind concern for educators, students and law enforcement.
During this school year alone, both Maloney and Platt High School had incidents in which lockdowns needed to be implemented. There were no injuries reported in either incident.
At Maloney, the school’s lockdown last October was spurred by an armed robbery of a bank near the school. At Platt, a little more than a month later, a lockdown was initiated when a video circulated on social media showed what appeared to be a student brandishing a firearm in the school. Police later determined it was a prop and arrested two students.
On Wednesday, students sought to convey messages of kindness and change.
Nixon explained kindness is not a difficult power to exercise.
That power, he said, “can change somebody’s life.”
Cassidy urged peers to not be scared to speak up for change.
“Just speak up. Don’t silence yourself, and don’t let yourself be silenced,” she said.
Organizers said their message was well received.
“We wish it was under different circumstances. But it shows that we were all together. We were all working together,” Burns said.
James Flynn, one of Maloney’s assistant principals, is a longtime educator. School safety remains a top concern for him and other educators.
Supporting students is another focus.
“My role as an administrator is to create civic minded students, who want to take action for the things they believe in,” he said.
Whatever the cause — whether it’s education, environmental protection, gun control, etc. — the role of educators like Flynn is not to steer students in a direction, but to guide them and allow their voices to be heard.
“So when they came to us, we said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s support them. Let’s see how we can make it a whole school thing,’” Flynn said, adding when students approach him and other educators with a proposal like Wednesday’s event, they more than likely have been pondering it for quite some time.
“They don’t randomly come to you with an idea. That means it’s been kicking around for a couple days about doing something,” Flynn said. Mental Health Club
Mental health was the focus of another event on Wednesday planned by Maloney’s Mental Health Club. It’s a group formed this school year. The club held an event that was as festive, with music and games, as it was informative.
Rachel Wilson is a school counselor at Maloney and the club’s advisor. The group has planned different events every month around mental health awareness and self care, Wilson explained.
The purpose of Wednesday’s outdoor event was to provide awareness and resources in a way that was also relaxing.
Maloney senior Lea Heart Valerio established the Mental Health Club and currently serves as the group’s president.
Valerio said she started the club in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation students experienced overall when schools went into full remote learning.
Students wanted to feel connected after having been “separated for so long,” Valerio explained.
“Starting the mental health club has allowed other people to make connections, to get more resources,” she said.