Students write letters to Parkland shooting victims

By Elyssa Seltzer

Following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which took the lives of 17 students and teachers, MSD history teacher Diane Wolk-Rogers requested handwritten letters from across the country to greet her students Feb. 28, their first day back in school. In an effort to reach out, Whitman staff and students have sent letters and banners to the school.

Wolk-Rogers posted the request on a Facebook page with AP World History teachers from across the country. The post went viral, and the school received hundreds of thousands of letters from across the world. Many letters have been trucked to a central warehouse for processing, Wolk-Rogers said.

“I believe hand-writing rather than tapping on a keyboard is a more effective way to share emotions and perhaps help the letter writer heal too,” she said. “Also, I believed that reading handwritten letters would be more personal and authentic for my students.”

After seeing the post, AP Lang teacher Matthew Bruneel recalled that writing provided an outlet for students to express their emotions after losses in the Whitman community, and encouraged willing students to write letters for Parkland.

“I remembered after Jojo’s death last semester how meaningful it was for my students to write for their own healing,” Bruneel said. “It’s hard to try to put the words out into the open, so I really like the writing aspect of it.”

Junior Alex Herrera, one of Bruneel’s students, thought the letters were a great way to reach out to Stoneman Douglas, student to student.

“Even though I can’t ever feel what the students and staff at Stoneman Douglas felt, I feel like being able to write the students a letter is something they’ll really appreciate,” Herrera said.

The letters weren’t Whitman’s only effort to contact Stoneman Douglas. After a member of Parkland’s yearbook staff was killed in the shooting, Whitman’s yearbook sent a letter to the school. Additionally, staff and students created a banner to send to the school that was signed by hundreds.

“We felt it was important and something we shouldn’t just let go because I think these students need to know they’re supported from all over the country, and our hearts are with them,” yearbook advisor Elizabeth Keating said.

In the wake of the shooting, many students have also become involved in activist efforts to increase gun control legislation, taking part in various marches and walkouts in support of firearm regulation.

“Please continue to follow our Parkland students and support their #neveragain movement,” Wolks-Rogers said. “Continue to arm yourself with your First Amendment rights and bend the arc of history towards justice and a safe learning environment for all.”