By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff
Often, times of disaster bring people closer together and for South Johnston High School it was no different.
In the wake of the tragic events at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a lone gunman killed 17 people and left countless others with both physical and mental scars that will probably last a lifetime, the students of the Johnston County school decided it was time to be more than watchers.
Thanks to the encouragement of principal Dr. David Pearce, the students have come together to show their support, not only for the victims at Stoneman Douglas High School, but for their own safety and security.
Dr. Pearce said the idea grew from a simple conversation with students about how things could be made better.
“Some kids have been saying I don’t know how to have this conversation,” Dr. Pearce said. “So, we got the kids together and just said, ‘Hey, what do you want to do? What are you thinking? What are some of the pieces?’” While students shared concerns about locked and unlocked doors, access to the school and other things coming, they also shared with him they believed a feeling of unity is the best prevention.
“They felt the schools that were safest were the ones that were united all together and understanding their school should be safe,” Dr. Pearce said.
As the discussion unfolded, students revealed they were more concerned about the here and now, not what could be done, rather what can they do now.
“That started a dialog with our students that was pretty unique and amazing,” Dr. Pearce said. “We may not all agree on gun control, we may not all agree on mental health, we can agree we believe our school should be safe.”
Hence, Unity Week was born.
Dr. Pearce pledged the administration, faculty and staff would be in full agreement with the students and their desire for a safe learning environment.
“Let’s make sure the students on this campus know we’re united and we’re here for them,” Dr. Pearce said. “That we agree our school should be safe.”
Dr. Pearce describes what was created as something unique for each day. Not anything disruptive or distracting, just something to help with school culture and climate.
“I think it’s a really great thing we’re doing, it really promotes unity throughout our school and that’s what our intentions are,” said sophomore Calli Jon Massengill. “I think the first step to make our school safer is to make everyone feel as we are a whole, because we’re all Trojans. I think Unity Week is a great way to promote that.”
It began yesterday with “Words of Affirmation” scattered throughout the school. They came in the form of notes to the students placed in locations throughout the school and on their desks, a way of making each student feel like they’re truly a part of the school.
“We had a group of student leaders who hung around on Friday at the end of the day and they put notes on each of the kids’ desk,” Dr. Pearce said. “When they showed up this morning there were words of affirmation for them to see.”
Calli Jon said the words reinforced the care faculty and staff have about the students.
“It’s just a great feeling to come into school and know they’re cared about,” she said. “I hear some people, especially at other schools, say they feel like the teachers don’t care, but at South I always feel like everyone cares about how we feel and respond to things.”
Today, the student body will show their support of Stoneman Douglas High School by wearing burgundy and gray, the school colors.
Sophomore Austin Denning believes the week is a way to get the word out of new safety measures recently put into place as well as simply a great way to show unity.
“I think it’s a really cool idea to bring all the students together and be united as one,” he said.
Tomorrow will see the entire school unite in a moment of silence during an assembly set to feature a guest speaker and local first responders.
“We’ll have a moment of silence for anyone who has been affected by school violence,” Dr. Pearce said. “Our Miss South Johnston has purchased every student a T-shirt that says ‘United, We Are Stronger’ or something along that lines.”
From there it will be a special Thursday event Dr. Pearce calls No. 17, to honor the 17 people lost in the Florida shooting.
“We’re going to turn it into 17 positive acts of kindness every day,” he said. “Whether it’s meet 17 colleagues you didn’t know, 17 high fives, whatever it takes.”
The week will wrap up with a day celebrating South Johnston High School itself. It’s set to begin with wearing school colors then students will make sentence starters with “things I wish you knew about me…” all in an attempt to bring the students closer.
“We get to know each as individuals, not just as a 10th-grader, 11th-grader, a student on the baseball or football team,” Dr. Pearce said. “We want to help us to see each other as a community, South Johnston High School.”
‘I hear some people, especially at other schools, say they feel like the teachers don’t care, but at South I always feel like everyone cares about how we feel and respond to things.’
— Student Calli Jon Massengill