Lakeland students react to Parkland

Published 8:27 pm Monday, February 19, 2018

Students in Gail Barker’s government class at Lakeland High School plan a series of projects in response to last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

It started organically during a current events discussion, Barker said. The topic of the shooting was brought up, and she let the conversation grow.

“I didn’t expect the level of emotional response I got,” Barker said. “They began to think about what to do with it and how to learn from it.”

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The students were naturally curious about the incident, Barker said. Their class gave them a chance to explore their questions and feelings.

“They wanted to know a lot about it. They wanted the details and thoroughly discussed the situation,” Barker said. “They talked about their feelings, and we identified their feelings by writing them down. I had lists of anger, confusion, fear and concern.”

Barker believes her role as a government teacher is to teach her students about active citizenship, and she found five classrooms full of students that wanted to actively help the victims of the shooting and effect change at a higher level.

Conversation centered around the First Amendment and how the students could use the freedoms it guarantees to make a difference.

“How can we contact press and petition the government to express how we feel?” Barker said. “We came up with things we are working on. It’s a long-term project.”

The students will be completing a series of projects, and they will be graded on some of the things they do. The curriculum is moving into project-based learning. The academics and the relevancy of the project were a large reason why Barker got approval from the principal, Douglas Wagoner.

The students are currently working on letters and large cards for the Florida school and victims’ families. Barker’s classes collaborated with the art and English departments at Lakeland to produce 2-foot-by-3-foot cards. Every class will get the opportunity to sign the inside as well as to send individual letters. Barker anticipates that project being completed in a few days.

“This touched a core in them. They are high school students, and they are here in a high school. This shooter was a student and looked like he could have gone to our school. It made it very personal,” Barker said.

While the students are empathetic and want to express their sympathies to those affected in Florida, the students are also going to do their civic duty and write letters to those who can change the current situation.

Barker will work with the students to draft letters that will go to political representatives and other stakeholders who can effect change.

“They are looking at sending letters to representatives and stakeholders — governors, Trump and the list goes on,” Barker said. “It will be a good representation of what they think and feel, and we will address them to numerous people.”

This project will be more time consuming, according to Barker, but they anticipate this one to be done in a matter of weeks.

“I want them to know they have a voice, and I want them to understand that a democracy means active citizenship,” Barker said. “I never want them to feel powerless, because there is always something you can do. I want them to feel empowered in any situation, because being stuck in fear is not a good place to be. I want them to reach their full potential.

“These kids understand the news, and they are motivated to take on adulthood and be active citizens. They are good-hearted kids.”