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D.C. Fil-Am students, teachers sound off on school shootings

/ 01:20 AM March 16, 2018

Sydney Allison Avelino speaks against gun violence at the Oxon Hill High School assembly, in solidarity with the National School Walkout Day. PG CTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

WASHINGTON, DC — While thousands of high school students in the metropolitan area were walking out of school and marching to Capitol Hill demanding changes in the nation’s gun laws, 16-year-old Filipino American Sydney Allison Avelino was walking in a packed auditorium at her own school in Oxon Hill, Maryland, listening to administrators and teachers talk about the need to keep places of education safe.

It was their way of observing National School Walkout Day and honoring the 17 shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. There were 3,000 protest actions across the U.S. last Wednesday, March 14.

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When the morning assembly at Oxon Hill High opened for comments, Sydney was the first to stand up. She recalled how horrified she was when she, as a 6th grader, learned of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting five years ago, how she kept thinking the government had to do something to prevent another tragedy.

“But there have been more than 15 school shootings since then, and more school children killed in only two months,” she told a hushed audience. “Do you know how ridiculous that is? I should not fear going to school. I should not even fear going to the movies. I should not fear for my little sister who goes to middle school.” Sydney’s sister, Shannon Ann, is an 8th grader.

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Joseph Abelardo Conaty (2nd from right), a 7th grader at a Catholic school in Laurel, MD., says he feels safe, but is worried that school shootings are happening too often. FACEBOOK

Referring to the Parkland students who were killed, Sydney said she was heartbroken that “those freshmen who were killed are never going to experience the joy of being a senior. And those seniors will never experience what it is like to be a college student. And those students who could have been college students will never learn what their career or passion could be. There needs to be change. And I cannot wait for our generation to rise and become that change.”

The assembly broke into applause.

‘Not another one’

Sydney, who is president of her school’s Filipino American Youth Association (FAYA), has been passionate and outspoken when it comes to the subject of gun violence and school shootings.

“So, this was a huge moment for me when I spoke up,” she says. “As heartbreaking as the Parkland shootings were, the first thought that ran through my mind was ‘not another one.’ School shootings are so normalized within our society to the point that the feelings one feels are no longer heavy in magnitude anymore. I felt hopeless and numb because it seemed as if there was going to be another shooting next week, and every week after that. I just want there to be change.”

An art therapist for 18 years, Marielle Mariano teaches art education at Fairfax County Public Schools. CONTRIBUTED

Sydney says she is heartened by what PTSA President Tonya Sweat said at the assembly: “She challenged our generation to rise up and be part of a conversation that should have taken place a long time ago. Sometimes, students are made to feel as if they have no voice. To be able to speak our hearts out today and feel as if we are being heard means the world to us.”

The emotional highlight of the morning assembly was when 17 students stood in an auditorium, each holding a flashlight. “I was moved and humbled by the experience,” she said. “Students spoke about each of the Parkland victims. Once the victim’s name was called, a light went out.”

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‘Changes must be made’

Not all the schools in the metropolitan area participated in Wednesday’s protest. But 12-year-old Joseph Abelardo Conaty, a Filipino American 7th grader at St. Joseph Regional Catholic School in Laurel, Maryland, is worried that these

killings are happening far too often.

“Changes must be made by our government officials to stop these school shootings,” he said.  “The President should take action, just as much as Congress should. If anything, I believe that our President should be the person to lead. Also, every school should have some form of counseling for those who are troubled.”

Although she loves firing a 9-mm gun on her personal free time, Montgomery County Public School teacher Malou Cadacio could never imagine herself as a teacher bringing a gun to school. CONTRIBUTED

Joseph, however, admits he is not fully confident the nation’s political leaders will take the necessary action. “Stopping a problem involves team work between the President and Congress,” he says. “But that’s not taking place.”

Arming teachers

Among the reforms Sydney would like legislators to pass are stricter laws that would make it difficult to obtain and buy a gun. She is, however, opposed to arming teachers, as proposed by President Trump.

“Teachers are just as human as we are,” she points out. “Therefore, they have their breaking points. Because teachers not only have to deal with disobedient students but also unjust wages, it would not surprise me that one day they could break. When that happens, the lives of thousands of students would be at risk. Guns have no place in a school environment.”

Filipino American teachers are also against these proposals.

An art educator and art therapist for almost 18 years, Marielle Mariano teaches at Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools. “I did not become a teacher to become a security officer,” she says. “I became a teacher to focus on education, to teach students lessons and give them experiences to enrich their lives not to take those lives away.”

She cites an example of how things could go wrong: “Some teachers have at least 30 students in their classroom and if angry and troubled students are aware of a firearm in the class, there arises a likelihood of gaining access to a gun or an accidental shooting in a heated situation. This would cause a mental health crisis not just for the students, but for the teacher who may be involved.  Teachers care for their students.  Imagine the trauma a teacher faces after shooting a student he/she has built and nurtured a relationship with and worked so hard to help and educate.”

What schools need, Mariano says, are more counselors, social workers, mental health programs, nurses, smaller class sizes and after-school programs.

Safe Haven

Malou Cadacio of Rockville, Maryland, is a Special Education teacher in the Montgomery County Public Schools and has been in the field of education since 1994.

“Although I love firing a 9-mm on my personal free time, I could never imagine myself as a teacher bringing a gun to school which I consider a safe haven for children apart from their homes and hence sans any sort of weapon like gun,” she says. “I am tasked to mold minds and instill values and I just want to uphold that and continue to strive to be good at that. So, please, let me teach as I should, in as much as I expect parents to parent, and authorities to police.”

The nation’s capital is expecting tens of thousands for the “March for Life” demonstration on March 24.  Sydney says many of her school mates at Oxon Hill High are planning to join the march and rally.

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TAGS: gun violence, gun violence protests, guns in America, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, National School Walkout Day, Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, Oxon Hill High, Prince George’s County Public School, protests, St. Joseph Regional Catholic School
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