The eyes of the world have been on the High School students of Broward County since the Valentine’s Day massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland. And our kids rose to the challenge as the world watched, eloquently expressing their sentiments and coalescing into groups organized to get things done.
As this is being written, parents, teachers, and pretty much all adults here in Broward are still glowing with pride from the amazing presentation just a few days ago at the Washington DC ‘March For Our Lives’ gun-control protest, spearheaded by our students, with hundreds of thousands more marching in towns across America, indeed, around the world.
While the numbers are not yet confirmed, the general agreement is that the March was one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War, with at least 1.2 million people marching in over 450 towns in America.
Broward County should be proud of their teens.
But even before the tragedy at MSD, Broward County public schools had much to be proud of.
The district has shown increased academic achievements, graduation rates that are the highest in five years, and advanced placement pass rates that are the highest in a decade, according to Robert Runcie, Superintendent of the Broward County Public Schools (BCPS).
Among some of the highlights since Runcie took office in 2011:
- BCPS graduation rate is the highest in five years.
- BCPS has the largest Debate initiative in the nation — with approximately 12,000 participating students.
- The Advanced Placement (AP) pass rate is the highest in more than 10 years.
- Schools offering Dual Language programs have increased from four in 2011/12 to 41.
- BCPS is the largest school district in the nation to offer chess for every second-grade student to develop critical thinking skills, plus resources for chess clubs for grades K-12.
- In 2013, BCPS became the first district in the nation to partner with Code.org to increase students’ access to computer science. BCPS is now a national model for computer science in schools with courses, curriculum and activities in 100 percent of District schools – and reaching 50,000 students in 2017/18.
- The District transformed itself from having the highest number of school-related arrests in the state in 2011, to having one of the lowest rates of arrest in the state. In addition, since 2011, suspensions have been reduced by more than 60 percent.
- The SMART (Safety, Music & Art, Athletics, Renovation, and Technology) initiative is now completed, under budget and ahead of schedule, with schools receiving new infrastructure/network equipment, wireless access points, and more than 83,000 new computer devices.
- BCPS was named a 2017 Great District for Great Teachers by the National Council on Teacher Quality
“As the sixth largest school District in the nation, Broward County Public Schools is a national leader for innovative initiatives and our schools across Hollywood are part of this success,” said Superintendent Runcie. “Together, we are strengthening the path to success, focusing on our three strategic pillars of high-quality instruction, continuous improvement, and effective communication.
“At each grade level,” he continued, “Hollywood schools and staff strive to energize our students and develop eager learners, who are ready to take on academic challenges that will prepare them to succeed in tomorrow’s world. I am proud of all of our students and schools representing the Hollywood community. There’s no doubt our students’ futures are incredibly bright.”
What makes our high school kids so special? Let’s find out.
McArthur High School
At Hollywood’s McArthur High, Principal Todd LaPace said that the success of the students is manifold. One of the first keys, he said, is Leadership.
“In the eight years that I’ve been here,” he said, “the number of clubs, activities, and sports has about doubled. There’s a little bit of something for everybody on campus now. Some are things that most schools have, some are things that the superintendent has put into place, like speech and debate, chess, a ton of different clubs, more science, engineering, multiple sports, both women’s and men’s, and the key is, the more students you can get involved in clubs and activities, research shows the more successful the student will be. And, if you double the number of clubs, you double the number of leaders.”
“Now, my definition of leadership is the ability to make those around you better, someone who brings them up and uplifts others around them. That’s why we’re constantly promoting leaders… we are creating a small army of leaders directing people to do the right things.”
Secondly, he said, the school has reorganized all non-instructional staff to work with students outside the classroom, putting them into “reactive, proactive and intervention teams” to make sure that no one falls through the cracks, and prevent discipline referrals, and their inherent repercussions, addressing disciplinary issues and behavioral problems before they happen.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, is Pride. Daily school announcements include updates on all the clubs, which also include games and movies and other non-academic things in which students can participate, all keeping the students together and involved. The announcements always end with statements of pride, and a school chant — we are going to succeed because, “I am McArthur, and it’s a Great Day to be a Mustang.”
“I’m really proud of the premise that we go on,” LaPace said. “Improve every day, strive to be a leader, every day. We have our McArthur Pyramid of Success, you see it in the front of the school, we see it every day. The bottom speaks to the basics, showing up, being involved, participating. The middle tells us to adapt and overcome, and at the top, what makes this campus special, pride, and leadership.”
This philosophy became the school’s slogan and the school’s chant.
“The parents, the community, everyone does it,” said LaPace. “It becomes really powerful when students are leading students.”
After the shooting at MSD, students at McArthur mobilized to collect school supplies for their sister school, did all kinds of fundraising, and became involved in activities to support the student movement for change. McArthur was selected as one of about 15 high schools in Broward to take part in a student voter-registration drive.
Students were trained to register voters and they did so for over 150 new ones, according to McArthur SGA President Gabriella Lopez.
See the sidebar for a students-eye view of life at McArthur after the tragedy at MSD.
Hollywood Hills High School
A little less structured but determined none the less, the students at Hollywood Hills used their clubs and teams to raise funds and supplies to the victims at MSD, and to channel their feelings productively. Shortly after the shooting, Lourdes Gonzalez, the principal at Hollywood Hills, encouraged the students to meet and express their feelings. They were allowed to demonstrate in controlled settings and chant or even shout out their feelings.
A group of Hollywood Hills High School students has formed a group called Students Stand Up in response to the massacre. They are meeting on a regular basis to discuss ways to encourage more safety at their school, and to advocate for better security in all schools.
“We need to have better security in the school,” believes Matthew Tindall, a leader of Students Stand Up.” “We need to have better security guards and more effective ways to identify students who might be having problems. There needs to be more attention for students who are having problems.”
Another student, Cherry Sharma agreed, adding, “If someone is not acting OK, something needs to be done to help that student.”
Dominic Martes said it should be more difficult to get a gun. “There should be more mental health checks,” he said.
The students believe the school security camera systems need to be improved, and they all believe more efforts should be made to identify students who might be having psychological problems. They believe there need to be more counselors in the schools. Because there are so few counselors, said Nelly Duplessis, the group’s advisor, it is hard for them to get to know the students.
The group is expected to continue to meet and advocate for changes in school safety.
South Broward High School
Andreah Pierre is the Student Government President at South Broward High School and she is proud the accomplishments of the SGA and her school. “We have worked to create more school spirit. We have worked on cleaning up and beautifying the garden. We have also painted a mural at the school. We had a clothing drive for people who were impacted by the recent hurricanes.”
Olayemi Awofadeju, the principal of South Broward High School, is also pleased with the accomplishments of teachers and students at the school.
“We have established an alumni program and we have about three alumni breakfasts a year,” she said. “The alumni are raising money for our school and these funds have allowed the band to travel to Carnegie Hall and the football team to travel outside the area.”
One of the newest clubs is the Hope Club. This organization works to prevent suicide among students and also provides peer counseling.
The number of students completing the Cambridge program, a well respected academic program has tripled. And the Marine Maritime Magnet program, which trains students for lucrative careers in the marine industry has grown and is attracting many students.
After the MSD shooting, South Broward High students quickly gathered to figure out how to get to the March and otherwise support their school and fellow students and the fight for their own safety. One look at our cover will show you that these kids are not just kids. They’re the people who will soon rule our country, and you better take them seriously.
“Toast For Our Lives” was a “mocktail” party put together by a group of SBHS students (our cover models) and the management of Lola’s on Harrison in downtown Hollywood. Entry included snacks, hors-d’oeuvres, soft drinks, live entertainment, a raffle, sales of bracelets and happy hour prices on real cocktails for the adults. All proceeds were donated to a fund to send SB students to the March in Washington. The event raised $2600.
“We ended up raising over $8,000 between the event, selling ribbons, and putting our mission out to the world and accepting donations,” said Rebecca Magnan, one of the organizers. “Every student had their transportation, housing accommodations, and food covered in full. We were able to bring 11 students absolutely free!!”
BCPS Doubles Down on School Safety
Broward School Board Chair Nora Rupert wants every student, teacher, administrator and parent to feel safe on school campuses. She loves the high level of activism being shown by students and the tenacity they are displaying.
“The healing will be a long-term process,” said Rupert. “And we need a long-term plan.”
Rupert is very concerned about school safety. “We need to have single points of entry at all schools. We need to have fences around the schools.
She knows it will take time to implement some safety plans. But she is also very impressed by the willingness of students to fight for safer schools in other changes. “The students are demanding changes and they will continue to fight for change,” she said.
Already, new safety and security measures have begun and are being put into existence. All safety protocols for routine school operations are being reinforced at all schools.
The District actively conducts code red training, which is the foundation of active-shooter training, throughout the school year at all schools.
The District is in the process of upgrading real-time surveillance camera systems at all schools, to be completed by June and has expedited the completion of Single Point of Entry measures for campus visitors.
With the approval of recent legislation, the state will provide the District with approximately $8.5 million to place a minimum of one School Resource Officer in each school beginning in the 2018/19 school year.
With the approval of recent legislation, the state will also provide the District with approximately $6 million to expand mental health services beginning in the 2018/19 school year.
The District will develop a Districtwide Security Risk Assessment for all schools by August 2018 and compete for a share of a $98 million statewide allocation to fund, in whole or in part, the costs associated with improving the physical security of school buildings. The state anticipates awarding grant funds to approved school districts in the first quarter of 2019.
The District will convene working groups and task forces to garner suggestions from citizens in our communities.
“Across Broward County, our hearts remain with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and all those impacted by the February 14, 2018, tragedy. Over the past several weeks, students across our District have been expressing their hurt, anger, disbelief and a flood of other emotions,” said Superintendent Robert W. Runcie.
“I am proud of our students’ focus and determination to turn their grief and outrage into action, as they dedicate themselves to positive change in our country. We continue to focus on providing our students, families, employees with the support they need to recover and heal from this tragedy.”
March for Our Lives
With money raised from fundraising efforts, 11 South Broward High School students attended the March for Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C. The group received an invitation to Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s Gun Violence Prevention reception, where they were photographed with Wasserman-Schultz and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“During the reception, we had the opportunity to engage in incredible conversations with them both,” said Becca Magnan, a senior at South Broward High School. “They shared information about specific legislation they are pushing to pass on local and federal levels, respectively. Meanwhile, we shared the projects we were working on, how we funded this trip, and our next steps.”
“Reflecting on the experience, I’m realizing that there couldn’t have been a more perfect group of students on this trip. Not only was it unbelievable that in a matter of 12 days we were able to fund 11 students in full, but even more remarkable was that the ones who showed interest were engaging for the right reasons and all equally driven to leave a mark on the Capitol.”
The students had the opportunity to meet and listen to legislators first-hand and play a role in the movement. “I think it’s important to acknowledge that movement started long ago, it just didn’t have the attention it does now until the MSD shooting. It isn’t the beginning of the movement, but we refuse to let it be the end.”
The march revealed vast support for the movement. “I lost count of how many adults thanked us on the train and around all of DC; Support wasn’t limited to the March but was truly everywhere.”
“This experience reminded me that poor voter turnout is a pressing dilemma in our nation. If the lawmakers of Florida and those of our nation refuse to represent the wishes of their constituents, it will be critical that we raise voting rates, as a state/nation obtain a more representative voice, and together, elect officials who WILL consider our demands. THAT is our next step.”