METUCHEN — Seventh-grader Charlotte Breen stepped outside her classroom at Edgar Middle School in Metuchen, linked her arms around two of her fellow classmates, bowed her head and closed her eyes in remembrance of the 17 lives lost during the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month.
“I didn’t hear anyone around me,” she said. “I just thought about how thankful and proud that we were doing this.”
Charlotte and her fellow classmates Nika Rockafeller, Avery Byrne, Henry Cea, Elliot Gerlach and Henry Busch, organized a moment of silence on March 14 to show support for the victims of Parkland and to make it clear to policymakers that change in gun laws must happen at the state and national levels so all schools, houses of worship and theaters are safe and violence-free environments.
Charlotte, Nika, Avery, Elliot and Henry Busch are seventh graders at the grades 5-8 school. Henry Cea is in fifth grade.
The day before the moment of silence, Edgar Middle School Principal Kevin McPeek said the student-run event was being held in house in support of what occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, where 14 students and three teachers were killed, but the district was not letting press come to the school.
Charlotte, Nika, Avery and Henry Cea met with “The Criterion Sentinel” at Cai’s Café on Main Street after school. The middle school students said high school students were throwing around ideas and they tagged along.
“We agreed with the ideas that were made and we made our own ideas,” Charlotte said.
The students met with McPeek a few times to discuss ideas.
“We shared our ideas and he shared his ideas,” Nika said. “Our first plan was to plan a sit in and we discussed a walkout.”
She said a sit in was not possible and with a walkout, a parent needed to accompany the student outside the school.
“So we decided to go a different way because we wanted to include everyone,” Nika said.
At 10 a.m., the ultimate plan was to link arms and hold a moment of silence for 17 minutes. However, the students said school officials only compromised on four minutes for them to participate in the nationwide school walkout movement to protest gun violence and show support for the victims of Florida shooting.
Four students walked out of the middle school with their parents.
The students wore orange shirts which read “We Stand with Parkland” with a sketch of Florida and a black arm band with the number 17 on it.
“The shirts were designed by high school students and we got the extra shirts,” Nika said.
Charlotte said they wanted to hold the moment of silence for the entire 17 minutes.
“Some of us went to the office to protest more to show four minutes was not enough,” she said. “Not everyone could do it, but we still rose a lot of awareness.”
Avery said the protest was important to hold because every parent should send their children to school and know they are coming home at the end of the day.
Charlotte said it is not a safe feeling, knowing young children can have access to guns.
Nika said although gun laws in New Jersey are strict, as a nation it is important for her generation to stand up because what transpired in Parkland is not OK.
“Safe does not mean having police monitoring our hallways or arming our teachers; it means greater gun control,” she said.
Nika said more events will be held in support of Parkland and to continue to raise awareness about gun violence. A community event will be held at 4 p.m. on March 24 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Route 27, and a student-led rally will be held on April 20 after school in downtown Metuchen.
“We will meet with the high school students and have posters, and there will be microphones for speeches,” Nika said.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.