March 16, 2018: Student Town Hall

March 16, 2018

Students sit on the floor in a circle during the town hall meeting.Hello, Black River Falls Community! This is Dr. Shelly Severson with the School District of Black River Falls here to share this week’s installment of our Spotlight on Schools!  This week I’m going to talk with you a little bit about an event that took place at the high school on Wednesday, March 14.

In the wake of the recent school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there has been a national “call to action,” if you will, from students to other students across the nation.  Our Black River Falls students heard this call to action and accepted the challenge in a way that made all of us within the organization proud. The national movement was encouraging students and staff alike to walk out of their schools at 10:00 am on Wednesday, March 14, which was exactly one month after the shooting in Florida.  They were asked to walk out for seventeen minutes, one minute for each student that perished, and then return to class.

In Black River Falls we had students talking to their student senators and staff about their interest in participating in the walkout movement.  Social media is a very efficient tool for teens to share their thoughts and ideas and it doesn’t take long at all for the ideas of a small group to suddenly gain traction and spread like wildfire across state lines!   Led by Mr. Rykken, Mr. Youngthunder, Mr. Boerger and Mr. Shepard, our high school social studies staff, the student senate came up with an event that turned out to be a positive way to start some great conversations. During advising, first thing in the morning, any students that wanted to participate in a town hall-style meeting was invited to the Field House to do so.  The focus of the town hall meeting was to be on how complex the issue of school safety was. It was not an anti-gun rally, nor a pro-gun rally. It was not a statement on mental health, nor was it a discussion about any single issue, but rather an opportunity for students to share their thoughts, ask questions, and discuss the topic openly and freely. The intention was to model, for the students, what civil discourse looks like.  Some people would say that a growing number of people in our society have lost the ability to disagree respectfully. That, in my opinion, is really too bad! Being able to have a fantastic debate between two intelligent people who have differing perspectives and points of view can be exciting, enlightening, and almost always leads to a broadening of both sides of thinking. Isn’t that usually our goal when having a discussion? On Wednesday morning, approximately 120 of our high school students were able to reap the benefits of that type of discussion.

Mr. Rykken shared the following; “The discussions were sincere, low-key, and thoughtful.  At the end, three kids spoke to the big group and were impressive. It was clear that kids have been thinking about this over the past four weeks.”  The student senators that assisted in facilitating the town hall meeting will take the information they gained from the discussions that morning and work with it to make a plan moving forward.  Following the advising period in the morning, the students went back to the high school and attended class.

At 10:00 am, the time that was to be commemorated, a moment of silence was observed while the names of the 17 victims were read off. In the end, we are proud that we were able to facilitate an educationally-based discussion in which all students felt “heard.” It’s a perfect example of activism, of the power each individual holds to positively impact change, and of the idea that sometimes just slowing down and listening to our youth brings results that would have otherwise been impossible.  While many districts around the Nation had to battle disruptive rallies and worried about consequences for students, we are celebrating the citizenship of our students!

As always, thank you for your support of the School District of Black River Falls. These are interesting times that we are living in but with student leadership like we are seeing, the future is looking bright!   If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me!  Let’s show our Tiger Pride in all that we do!

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