Prompted by the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., two Odessa High School juniors held a letter writing campaign to show support for their peers 1,679 miles away and to ask U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway to help stop school violence.
Alyssa Flores-Lopez and Destiny Vargas, both 17, devised the event, which attracted about 75 people. Students sat at OHS cafeteria tables talking and writing letters and viewing a slide presentation of victims of the Florida shooting.
The girls said the Feb. 14 massacre that killed 17 people and wounded another 17 was an emotional day. Vargas said school shootings are an everyday topic because they happen so frequently.
Both girls said they feel safe at OHS, which has close to 4,000 students. Vargas said there are drills where they go over procedures to ensure safety if something should happen. There have been incidents at OHS and Permian High School, which has about the same number of students, throughout the year.
Vargas said the target was for 1,000 letters to be written and plans are to send them as soon as possible.
Eighteen-year-old senior Marina Gonzales said she came to earn National Honor Society hours, but wanted to express herself about the shooting. She was writing a letter of support to the Parkland students because they were most impacted by it.
Kyrstin Castillo, a 16-year-old sophomore, said she attended for the NHS hours, but also to express her thoughts. She added that the shooting was ruthless and there were a lot of youngsters affected by it.
Novalyn Ontiveros, a 17-year-old senior, said a lot of people her age were talking about the shooting on social media. She was writing to Conaway, a Midland Republican, to urge stricter gun laws.
“It’s a big deal and not many people think we should have a say in it, but I think we can make a change,” Ontiveros said.
Eighteen-year-old senior Octavian Hinds said there are a lot of people getting gunned down and dying just doing everyday things.
“It strikes fear in kids’ hearts, like me, her anyone that comes into school because we never know when it’s going to happen to us because it happens to kids all over the country — Oregon to Florida to New York. There’s no boundary on it and there’s no one who’s safe from it,” Hinds said.
“So unless there is some type of action to reform it and keep guns from people like that, or just find a new system that works better like other countries do, it’s all vital because kids like me are scared to come to school … It’s worrisome at times, but hopefully one day I can send my kids to school without being worried,” Hinds added.
Associate Principal for Operations Tony Parris said he was impressed by the students taking action to organize the event.
“It was their idea to put this all together,” Parris said. “They took all the initiative. They advertised it. I think we’ve got a really good turnout.”
“… You take the politics out of it and it’s about kids supporting kids. They waited long enough for the emotion of the event to go by. Time had passed and they still wanted to show support for the kids and what they’ve been through. They took the politics out of it. They didn’t pick a side. But they said what we’re going to do is support those kids and let them know there’s other people out here that are thinking about them,” Parris said.
Lisa Roth, an English teacher who also teaches in the International Baccalaureate program, said she is proud of the students for coming up with the idea for the letter-writing campaign.
“… There were several incarnations of what this might look like, or sound like. They listened to input, they made adjustments but this is really well done, well executed. I really like that it’s an authentic experience, a way to build community, a way to open a conversation on a difficult subject in our community. If you don’t open those conversations, how can you solve problems?” Roth said.
She noted that Chicken Express donated the food.