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Students take a stand in peaceful support of safe schools –

by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Students across the community joined thousands from across the state and the country in supporting safe learning environments without fear of gun violence on March 14.
Sandy Spring Friends School students in grades 4-12, along with many faculty and staff members, lined Norwood Road, and observed 17 minutes of silence in remembrance of the 17 people shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
The peaceful protest allowed the students to “let their lives speak,” as stated by their school’s motto.
The protest was organized by students Alex Polòn and Samaa Eldadah.
Polòn, a senior, is the clerk (or president) of Torch, the student government association at Sandy Spring Friends School, and Samaa, a junior, is the assistant clerk (or vice president.)
They said the protest aligned with the Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship of the Earth.
“As a Quaker community, it is our duty to act within the values we hold dear,” Eldadah said. “I think it is important to be involved, to stay grounded in our values and act on our values, which is what you saw today.”
She said she is motivated by social justice and social activism.
“I think it is so important to empower individuals in the community to take a stand for their rights and to bridge across communities by educating ourselves about the issues.”
Polòn said the protest was organized following the Parkland shooting.
“We wanted to unite with other communities across the nation and to stand in solidary of safety in our schools,” she said. “I was really pleased how the event incorporated emotion in a positive way as we stood united along the property line and got honks and thumbs-up by people driving by. It was a productive and peaceful way to use our voices effectively.”
Following the school’s protest, Eldadah and about 40 other fellow high school students traveled to Washington, D.C., to join in with students from other local schools and across the country for the #Enough National School Walkout, an initiative organized by Empower, the youth arm of the Women’s March.
It was a student-led initiative, but Sandy Spring Friends School provided bus transportation.
Eldadah was involved in the coordination and planning of the D.C. march through her work with MoCo Students for Gun Control, an organization made up of representatives of about 40 area schools that planned to march in D.C.
Eldadah is also coordination the school’s annual Youth Peace Conference, an annual student-organized social justice conference focusing on youth activism as a means towards local social change.
“Our goal is to move towards a more peaceful community and world,” she said.
This year’s event, which is open to students in grades 8-12 from area schools, will take place on April 7. The theme is “Breaking Down Walls.” For more information, go to www.youthpeaceconferencemd.org.

Sherwood students want to ‘send a message of action’

While many Sherwood High School students headed to Washington, D.C., to participate in the National Student Walkout movement on March 14, the school’s Amnesty International Club organized an on-campus walkout.
“The [Student Government Association] organized the students who went downtown, but we organized an alternative for those students who were not allowed to go downtown or who wanted to stay in school, but still wanted to show their support for those students who died in Parkland,” said sophomore Hena Hussain, vice president of Amnesty International.
She said students walked out of the school to the stadium to observe a period of silence from 10 to 10:17 a.m.
Club members stood facing students on the bleachers, holding posters of the Parkland victims.
“We wanted to commemorate the lives of the students who lost their lives in Parkland, but also to send a message of action, to prevent this from happening in the future,” Hussain said. “This was personal to us; they were just normal kids living their lives, and then this tragedy happened.”
Hussain said that while the school administration could not endorse the walkout, they took actions to keep the students safe by providing security.
Club president Pooja Dharmendran said while they did not want to make the walkout about banning guns or gun control, that is something they do take a stance on.
“We believe that is something that needs to happen to prevent shootings like what happened in Parkland and so many other places from happening again in the future,” Hussain said.
In addition to the walkout, Amnesty International provided the opportunity for students to sign petitions and write letters to elected officials.
Dharmendran said the club will continue to encourage students to take action and members are planning to attend the March on Washington on March 24.
“As students, we need to stand up to show that this is important, and that our entire generation isn’t as apathetic as it may seem,” she said. “Students taking action means that nothing has been done yet, and that there is still a lot that needs to be done.”

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