CMHS students express their feelings without a word being spoken

LANA MUTHLER/THE EXPRESS At top, students write letters to legislators. Above, an unidentified student writes to the family of a slain student; Joe Moore calls for 17 minutes of silence.

MILL HALL — Silence.

17 minutes of silence.

It’s hard to imagine how that could happen in a high school gymnasium filled with more than 500 students.

But it did happen.

And it was heartwarming.

On Wednesday morning students at Central Mountain High School held a very special event.

It was called a “walk-out,” but that doesn’t in any way describe it.

Rather, it was a time for students to remember and pay tribute to the 17 victims of the tragic shooting at a Florida high school that took place exactly one month ago, on Feb. 14, 2018.

It was the local students themselves who wanted to join other schools across America at this specific time to show respect and support for the students who lost their lives on that day.

And the administration and educators gave the students their blessing.

At 10 a.m. sharp, the students who desired to participate began slowly and quietly making their way into the gymnasium. Within minutes three walls of the gym were covered with students and staff standing together.

Some held hands.

Some bowed their heads.

All of them were silent.

One of the students, Joe Moore, used a microphone and read the names of each of the 17 people who were killed when a 19-year-old opened fire at his former high school.

Fifteen of those who died were students… students just like those who gathered Wednesday at Central Mountain… but whose lives were cut short, leaving behind their hopes and dreams for their future.

“We will now have 17 minutes of silence, please,” Moore announced.

The huge expanse was quickly filled with a stillness that caused a person to wonder… wonder what was going through the minds of these young people.

Soon, they began quietly moving through the gymnasium to several specific areas.

Photographs of those who died in the Florida shooting were taped on one wall, along with the names and addresses of their families.

Local students stood in line to get large note cards and began writing to the families of those who had perished.

They sat on the floor in small groups, many taking time to fill the entire card with their thoughts and condolences to parents still grieving for their teen-age children.

And exactly in the middle of the gymnasium, a table was set up for students to write to someone else… to legislators asking them to pass laws to keep them safe from gun violence.

Some used the table, which held a list of lawmakers and their addresses, to write letters. Others took paper and pen and found a quiet spot on the gym floor to sit down and let their opinions be known, whether it be about guns, school safety or something else on their mind.

It was awe-inspiring and eye-opening to see these students and to know that they aren’t just happy-go-lucky teenagers looking for a good time, but rather young people who know what’s going on in the world around them, who have serious concerns and views and are willing to express them to those who can do something about it.

Although none of them spoke, you could see the compassion and sincerity on their faces.

You could tell they were grateful for the opportunity to let their voices be heard, in silence.

And that’s what this was all about.

“It was a chance for them to do whatever they wanted to do… to show how they feel,” said Dr. Alan Lonoconus, acting Keystone Central superintendent.

“You can call it whatever you want, but the bottom line is it’s a teachable moment for our students. Education is about developing responsible citizens. We want to do it the right way. This event’s goal is to allow students to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets, in our homes and places of worship. It’s not a protest against schools or guns, but a way to encourage school administrators and teachers to help students amplify their voices. We are working with the students to show them how to properly voice their concerns on a national level,” Dr. Lonoconus continued.

A larger than normal state police presence was noticeable at the high school during the event, with at least a half dozen cruisers parked outside and as many troopers standing in the gymnasium.

“We want the students to see that they are the good guys. It shows that PSP are also making the effort to make our schools safe,” Dr. Lonoconus said, noting that state police are now assigned to the Bucktail campus as well.

“We are concerned that if something would happen up there… we are so far from Bucktail. During the week, troopers will be at Bucktail every day… at different times… stationed inside the schools. We have an office set up for them on campus. Principal Betsy Dickey is ecstatic,” he continued.

“We want troopers on our school properties as much as possible… walking around… being seen. If it prevents someone from saying we are no longer a soft target, that’s good,” Dr. Lonoconus said. “Safety is first and foremost. It’s not about guns. It’s about safety.”

There were also similar events at Central Mountain Middle School, Bucktail High School and Jersey Shore High School at the appointed time.

At Central Mountain High School, Wednesday’s event ended just as it began.

Joe Moore walked to the microphone again. He stared at his watch and when it showed 17 minutes had ended, he dismissed the students.

The event was just as it was intended to be.

Solemn, respectful and dignified.

As the students walked from the gymnasium, Dr. Lonoconus watched from behind and reflected, “I’m very honored. Sometimes people underestimate our students. They don’t give them enough credit for knowing what’s going on in the world. I am very proud of them.”