CEDAR RAPIDS — After taking part recently in a walkout against gun violence in schools, a group of students from Franklin Middle School this week organized assemblies to talk about the impact of students being kind to each other.
Five eighth-grade girls addressed Franklin Middle’s sixth- through eighth-grade student body, urging peers to look out for each other and “break the cycle” of bullying.
“We’ve all been told, ‘don’t bully.’ These words don’t even register anymore,” Piper Jackman, 13, said. “Making one rude comment could break someone’s barrier, could shatter their shield. Wouldn’t you rather be the person that makes someone’s life turn in the opposite direction, in a positive way, rather than breaking it?”
During the assembly, the students talked about the home life of the former student who on Feb. 14 shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“His mom was his only friend, his best friend, in fact,” Lydia Jackson, 13, said. “Even throughout all of this, he was bullied at school. ... You never know what’s going in someone’s life. Treat them kindly.”
Some 350 other Franklin students — more than half the student body — walked out of class in the days after the Parkland shooting.
“From that day, we decided we wanted to do a little bit more,” Haven Diehl, 13, said. “So we met with our administration and started putting plans together.”
Franklin Middle Principal Lucas Ptacek said he was proud of students for wanting to continue the conversation around school safety, that has persisted since February.
“Pride in the fact that girls, and students in general, are willing to step up and speak to a change,” Ptacek said. “Instead of expecting something to happen, they’re making something happen.”
Student organizers invited Metro High student Alex Meek, 17, to tell students about her own experience in middle school, where she said she often felt like an outcast. But at her lowest point, her eighth-grade social studies teacher reached out.
His empathy had a huge impact on her, Meek said.
“Everyone has a story,” said Allie Hayes, 13. “And you never know what is going on in someone’s life.”
Parents and staff have been receptive to the students’ message and activism, Ptacek said, adding that “the tide has changed” with students finding their voices.
“Students feel that they have a voice, and they’re demonstrating that voice,” he said. “If you’re trying to filter topics from students, are we getting a full picture of what’s going on? By being real with kids, they can understand. They hear things going on, so let’s try to get the message to the students about what’s going on and how they can make a change.”
The students behind the assemblies — Piper, Haven, Allie, Lydia and Kyra LaGrange, 14 — believe their message is getting across.
“People our age see people onstage like them talking,” Piper said, “and they’re like, ‘this is something maybe I could do, something I should do.’”
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