Last month, the education community and the entire nation were shaken by the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. Seventeen beautiful lives were lost that day, 14 high school students and three heroic adults.
This horrific event has led many Americans to look inward, move past political and ideological differences and search for ways to restore the sanctity of our schools. This proves that even in the darkest and saddest moments, there is room for hope. This proves that even amid chaos and despair, there is strength and resolve to fix what’s broken. Although the recovery will be long and painful, there are signs all around telling us that those 17 lives were not lost in vain.
Typically, during this time of the year, every school in Florida is gearing up for testing season. Throughout the state, educators work tirelessly to ensure that students are fully prepared to perform well on the state assessments that are part of Florida’s accountability system. However, as educators, we aim for more than a simple passing grade on a state assessment. We do everything we can to ensure that our students are prepared to meet the challenges of a complex and ever-changing world. This, above all, is what we consider the fundamental goal of education.
But, this year, it is the students who are, through their fervent activism, teaching us important lessons. As chief academic officer of the nation’s fourth-largest school system, I should be dismayed by the disruption some of these events have had on our schools and the continuity of instruction. Instead, I am inspired and motivated to support students in their civic engagement.
While some may be concerned about the academic lessons lost through recent student absenteeism, safety drills, and counseling protocols, I prefer to focus on the valuable lessons that youngsters are teaching us. Through their collective voice, their concern for school safety and their concerted efforts against gun violence, our students are reminding us about the power of democracy, diplomacy, civility and one’s right to petition the government when grievances are apparent.
In times when adults cannot seem to agree on anything and American political discourse has reached yet another impasse, students have come together with one voice and used the tools of democracy to make a difference. In doing so, they also have restored our faith in humanity and have rekindled our optimism. They have said it loud and clear — Never again. Never again shall students have to run for their lives because of flying bullets. Never again shall students be subjected to the horrors of gun violence in the sanctity of our schools. Never again.
The only weapon our students have used is the strength of their voices and their arguments. The only ammunition they carry is the power of their convictions and the will to fight for common-sense change.
In a matter of days, they have organized a grassroots movement with a clear and powerful message that will certainly have profound implications throughout the country in the days and years to come. We encourage and celebrate their resolve and their political prowess. They have taught us a powerful lesson in civics. They have taught us a lesson that is stronger than any lesson we could have taught them. Clearly, their teachers have prepared them to be effective and engaged citizens in today’s world, which proves, once again, that educators should be armed with resources that support their craft, not weapons.
Let’s not forget that these are the fundamental beliefs that have made our institutions strong and our democracy a beacon of hope around the world. As our students lead the way to a safer tomorrow, we could not be more proud of them.
I encourage all who can to support this emerging youth movement to ensure that the nation’s young people continue on the path to being informed, engaged, and active citizens. Our future is in good hands, thankfully.
Marie Izquierdo is the chief academic officer of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.