March 20, 2018

The Public's Shock That We Care is What Holds Us Back

By Annie Stauffer

In January, there was a shooting at Marshall County High School. Since then, we’ve had two gun threats at my school in Owensboro, and I know friends across the state have had similar experiences.

What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ignited a flame within students across the country. And what Kentucky needs to know about school climate and safety is that that flame—the one that will drive us to take a stand and fight for schools that feel safe—is here to stay. What Kentucky needs to know about school climate and safety is that listening to the ideas, opinions, and voices of students can no longer be an afterthought.

This is the moment where we have to pause and think critically about the climate of our schools—how can we help students feel connected to each other and to their schools?

The way students feel about their school has significant impact on how they learn, and we can’t separate current political and social issues from that fact. Change starts with listening. It starts with opening up conversations so young people aren’t just allowed to share their experiences and knowledge, but encouraged to. Students have opinions and solutions. We shouldn’t have to wait until we are of voting age to express them.

Kentucky, there are a lot of steps we can take to improve school safety. We need increased funding and support for mental health services in schools. We need responsible gun ownership. We need school discipline policies that help students rather than criminalizing them. We need open dialogues on social and emotional support between students and teaching staff. But we also need room for students to have a say in these conversations.

The public’s shock that students care—that we can make a difference—is what holds us back. Students can, must, and have overcome our learned helplessness. Student movements have been impetus of change throughout history. In 1967, thousands of students in Philadelphia walked out of school to protest racial discrimination they faced in both their school and community. Their requests for a more relevant and diverse curriculum and less discriminatory school policies were met with police brutality and incarceration. In 1970, after twenty-eight U.S. National Guardsmen fired over sixty rounds in less than fifteen seconds, killing four students as they protested the Vietnam War at Kent State University, four million students from around the country refused to attend school in resistance and solidarity. Students care, and they can, must, and have made a difference.

We are one society. We are a democracy. We must strive to abolish the ageism that has kept students from serving as partners with adults in making our schools better. Kentucky can’t make significant strides toward improved school climate without students.

We have to work together to achieve safety and equity for students across the state—and for the students who will come after us. I want the next generation of students at my high school to know they are safe, supported, and heard. Students are not just the future. We are a vibrant part of the present. On March 20th, history can note that Kentucky students asked not only for a change, but to make that change with adults, as partners.

These remarks were deliverd at the March For Our Lives Kentucky Rally organized by the Student Voice Team on the steps of the capitol in Frankfort on March 20, 2018.

Annie Stauffer

Annie Stauffer

Annie is a former member of KSVT. She graduated from Daviess County High School in 2018 and Transylvania University in 2021.