Students choose talking over walking
As students across the country began planning demonstrations for National Walkout Day, Whitehall High School Principal Nate Davidson challenged his students to think outside the box.
Davidson implored student leaders to stay in school April 20 and create a constructive dialogue on school safety, gun control and mental health. The result was an informative, passionate discussion with state Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-133rd, and Lehigh County Commissioner Phillips Armstrong in the school’s auditorium.
“This date represents a remembrance of what happened at Columbine when I was your age, so we’ve been dealing with this problem as a nation for quite some time,” Davidson said. “We have a dedicated group of students who took initiative, with our support, to create something that was educational.”
With students, faculty and district administration in attendance, sophomores Kevsergul Dayi, Rachel Meshach, Andy Chung, Hannah Fritzinger and Morgan Guiher took turns asking questions of McNeill and Armstrong. Topics ranged from school funding to the state’s gun laws to anti-bullying initiatives.
“After the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, movements like March for Our Lives and National Walkout Day have occurred to make sure that these mass shootings are not dismissed with ‘thoughts and prayers,’” Dayi said. “Students like us are pushing for change and ensuring that our voices matter.”
McNeill said roughly 50 gun control bills have been introduced in Harrisburg since the Parkland, Fla., tragedy. Those bills range from tougher background checks when acquiring rifles to banning bump stocks to potentially arming teachers in the classroom.
McNeill said legislators are pushing for uniform safety standards on all newly built schools in the state. Those features for new schools would include having only one entrance, stronger doors in all classrooms and less glass throughout the building.
Armstrong taught social studies at WHS for 40 years before turning to politics at the county level. He stressed the importance of voting in local elections and the area’s 13-percent voter turnout in previous years.
“You need to have a voice. Then you need to get out and use that voice,” Armstrong said.
Whitehall-Coplay was the first school district in Lehigh County to partner with Penn State University in the Communities That Care program. Armstrong said the results of that partnership provided the district with important data on the needs of its students. He is pushing to make the program countywide so that other districts can use the information to create a safer learning environment.
McNeill encouraged students to track the bills that they are passionate about through the state government website. Visitors can see which bills are being voted on and those that fail to make it out of the committee level.
“I want to commend all of you for taking the time to be here and looking for answers to your questions,” McNeill said.
State Rep. Zachary Mako, R-183rd, was also invited to participate in the discussion but was unable to attend.