POLITICS
03/14/2018 01:29 pm ET

This Teacher Went To Stoneman Douglas. Now She's Watching Her Students Fight For Her Alma Mater.

Hundreds of Jessica Stillman's students participated in the National School Walkout on Wednesday.
Students of Townsend Harris High School in Queens, New York, take part in a nationwide student walkout in solidarity with oth
Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
Students of Townsend Harris High School in Queens, New York, take part in a nationwide student walkout in solidarity with other students around the country who are protesting for gun law reform on March 14, 2018.

QUEENS, N.Y. ― Every time there’s a lockdown drill at Townsend Harris High School, the large, busy Flushing school where Jessica Stillman teaches English, she replays the preparations she’d need to take to keep her students safe.

Then, in February, her deepest fear came true. Her school experienced a shooting. Only it wasn’t the school where she currently works.

Stillman attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as a teenager, living less than a mile away. Like so many of the survivors who have emerged as leaders of the Never Again movement, Stillman was a theater kid at the school.

On Wednesday morning, she got to watch as students at her school carried the torch of the Parkland leaders. She chaperoned while some 800 of the school’s 1,100 students participated in the National School Walkout, spending 30 minutes in silence in a nearby field.

Around the country, at least 3,000 other schools and communities participated in the event, an effort to honor the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and agitate for stricter gun control. 

The hundreds of teens were hushed as a small group of students and teachers alternated reading the names of the victims of the Parkland shooting over a megaphone. Each victim was given a minute of silence. Stillman tearfully looked on as teens held signs displaying the students’ names and messages of protest against the National Rifle Association.

Students of Townsend Harris High School take part in a nationwide student walkout on March 14. 
Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
Students of Townsend Harris High School take part in a nationwide student walkout on March 14. 

Kathy Ling, a senior at Townsend Harris, helped plan the student-led event as president of the student union. The walkout is one of several events the students have planned to help honor Parkland and its victims over the next few months. The school’s administration, she said, has been supportive and helpful.

Ling was proud of the respect her fellow students showed during the event, which was meant to act more as a memorial than a protest, she said.

Watching members of the MSD theater community gain national prominence as spokespeople for a gun control movement has been heartwarming, but not surprising, Stillman says, given the public speaking skills necessary for drama. The eloquence and composure the Parkland students have exhibited remind Stillman of her own students at Townsend Harris, whom she describes as “politically aware” and “articulate.” 

Stillman sported a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sweatshirt at the walkout. On Wednesday evening, she plans to participate in an “Evening of Action” with fellow MSD alumni and high school students around New York.

“I never in a million years anything like this would happen in that town,” Stillman said earlier this week of Parkland. “Hopefully it doesn’t happen anywhere, but to have it happen in a place you know so well, so intimately ― it was like losing somebody in your own family.”

  • Students of Townsend Harris High School take part in a moment of silence.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School take part in a moment of silence.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School in Queens, New York, take part in a nationwide student walkout in solidarity with oth
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School in Queens, New York, take part in a nationwide student walkout in solidarity with other students around the country who are protesting for gun law reform on March 14, 2018.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School hold their signs while observing a moment of silence for the victims of&nbs
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School hold their signs while observing a moment of silence for the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
  • Jessica Stillman, a teacher at Townsend Harris High School, takes part in a nationwide student walkout.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Jessica Stillman, a teacher at Townsend Harris High School, takes part in a nationwide student walkout.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School carry their signs as they go back to class.
  • Students of Townsend Harris High School enter their school after taking part in a nationwide student walkout.
    Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
    Students of Townsend Harris High School enter their school after taking part in a nationwide student walkout.
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