GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Many have led in their lives, but when was the first time you were asked to lead?
Some Gallia public school students experienced just that Friday morning as school administrators and community members asked them what they would like to see out of an event that has been geared towards uniting the community in a message against violence and reaching out to those who might feel isolated.
Community members began organizing shortly after the Parkland Florida Shootings with concern for the overall state of violence in society and mental health, especially in schools. Members began reaching out to school administrators with a desire to speak with students and ask them their opinions on violence in society.
Gallia’s three public high schools joined Friday morning at Bossard Memorial Library with student leaders, encouraging students to share their opinions and visions of how such an event should be executed. Both Gallipolis City Schools Superintendent Craig Wright and Gallia County Local Schools Superintendent Jude Meyers said it was one of the few opportunities in recent memory where the school districts could combine for a greater cause and the administrators agreed on the importance of the initiative.
“This group that formed, formed after the (Parkland Shooting), and it was really just (aimed at discussing) violence and the role that violence is playing in our society,” said Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church Priest-in-charge AJ Stack. “Very quickly, it became apparent that it was just a bunch of old people sitting around and talking about what kids needed. Obviously, that’s not helpful…So, we started talking about trying to get in touch with high schools and have some meetings and started inviting people and that’s when we came into your schools. It became apparent we needed to get you guys together (in a discussion of what students wanted).”
Stack said of the conversations, students expressed a need for the community to unite and the event should not be a “one-time” incident. More organization and planning needed to be continued into the future. The current event is slated for April 20 in Gallipolis City Park.
“I don’t know that I have any ideas what I would like the event to look like,” said the first student to address the assembled with an emotional response,” but I know that after it’s all said and done, I want people to feel something and want to be kinder to other people so that nothing like this could happen again.”
“I think that along with what (previous student) said and people needing to be kinder to others, I would also like to see people who are more aware to what is going on, maybe not every student, but bodies of the students,” said the second speaker. “I want the (community) to be more aware of what’s going on and what the kids are thinking.”
“I still think that we need people to (to help us) but not hinder us and think they can fix all the problems for us,” another student said. “Anyone who gets too involved in something, there’s a line where they get too in-depth into your situation and they want to take over. Instead of saying do this, you can try this but it’s really up to you. That gives us the willingness to make our own decisions. We’re becoming young adults and we’ll take over the world after the last generation has moved on. We need to know how to make our decisions.”
Some students voiced that they wanted others to be more open-minded and to respect others who may be following less traditional paths academically. Students voiced the importance of having trusted adult figures in the community who understood that making mistakes was a part of growing up and that harsh discipline was not always an answer for learning. Students also expressed a desire for “tough love” conversations at times though.
Students would eventually split into four groups and gather in the corners of the Bossard Riverside Room to discuss their interests in organizing the upcoming event. Some gathered to discuss entertainment and speakers, some gathered to discuss logistics and supplies and others gathered to discuss reaching out and mental health issues.
Any interested in assisting the event can direct their donations to Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Gallipolis. The organization will be acting as a local financial agent and offers a donation to be tax deductible with the assurance that the event will remain inclusive and apolitical. The church may be contacted at 740-446-2483 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.