Interviews are often a very interesting process.
Sometimes you sit down with a person and get straight answers. Other times, the person opens a new box of puzzle pieces, dropping the contents out in front of you. You leave the interview knowing there’s a big picture, but you have to connect all the puzzle pieces together.
When I went to meet five Mahomet-Seymour High School students to talk about school safety, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.
I wanted to know information about what opportunities they had to practice ALICE procedures prior to an assembly five days after the shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla. I wanted to know their thoughts about the assembly. And knowing that MSHS students are planning to participate in the nationwide student walkout on March 14 to call attention to changes that they believe need to be made to ensure their safety while at school, I wanted to know what they thought should happen next.
These students come from different backgrounds: they are sophomores or juniors, males and females, some have attended Mahomet-Seymour Schools since kindergarten, others moved into the district, some are in honors classes, some are not, some participate in many extracurricular activities and others do not, these students are from diverse racial and financial backgrounds, a few were friends, others only knew each other by name.
But they all had one thing in common; they had a lot to say.
While the students talked about their thoughts on school preparedness, gun regulations and the national walkout movement, they were searching desperately for an adult who would just let them talk, who would listen and who would help.
They dumped out the pieces of a puzzle that included academic pressure, bullying, racism, violence, sexting, self-harm and crying in the bathroom. They were struggling to fit the pieces together so that it looked like the Mahomet-Seymour they so desperately wanted to live in and be a part of.
The interesting thing about listening to them talk is that when someone brought up a subject, you could hear the rest of them sigh or speak up in relief as each new topic was broached.
The picture of perfection they read in the newspaper or see as they approach the school building seems more like rhetoric than actuality in their minds.
These students know they need immediate help. They need someone to listen and implement their ideas so that tomorrow they can go to school knowing that they are safe. But they also know that this problem isn’t something that can be fixed with a metal detector or a rule requiring classroom doors to be kept closed.
These students know that what they are experiencing inside their school is a heart issue that demands immediate and long-term care.
They can’t fit their puzzle of Mahomet-Seymour together because what they are looking for is the availability of adults. They all want someone to listen, not only to their ideas, but also to their pain. They need someone to believe their stories, meeting them exactly where they are. They need to trust that those in power are going to act in the best interest of the students.
These students aren’t looking for more academic accolades. Instead, they want to understand the voting process and how to balance a checkbook.
These students want to know that they, in all of their quirkiness, wonder, ambition and dreams, are okay. They just want their loved ones, the people who are responsible for them and their peers, to accept them for who they are.
These students want physical, mental and emotional safety, responsibility, honesty, equal opportunities, care, discipline, respect, balance and understanding. They don’t want to be pushed aside as angsty teenagers. They want to be respected as whole human beings who are still trying to figure out the world around them.
These students, I think, want what we are all seeking.
Over the next five publication days, we are going to document what these students see, hear and think.
The students came and left the interview wanting their names to be included on anything that would be published. In fact, they asked that their names be included “a lot.” Even after talking to their families, some students continued to want their names attached to the articles.
But the reality is that the things they disclosed have larger ramifications than just their voices being heard. For this reason, student names are not included in the series that gives readers an inside look into what some MSHS students are experiencing and feeling.
Each day students will be listed by number.
As adults, we can choose to do two things after reading about their experiences. We can reject their insights, playing them off as something that children always deal with and just say they aren’t true. Or, we can choose to come together, recognizing that they need us to do our jobs as their trusted caretakers.