Courier Staff Writer
An Ottumwa High School advisory class turned their shock and sadness for the victims of last month’s Connecticut elementary school shooting into an effort to help them heal, in whatever way possible.
Sophomore Madyson Feather said someday she wants to be a first-grade teacher and has spent a lot of time thinking about how she would have reacted during a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month that took the lives of 20 students and six teachers.
“I was really pretty depressed about it,” Feather said. “On the ‘Today’ show I saw they were making bracelets, and I got a T-shirt for a sport that day so I thought we could make shirts and send them the money we raise.”
She brought the idea to her advisory teacher Amy Drake, who was immediately on board.
Feather found out about the shooting right after lunch on Dec. 14, and the rest of the school day, she said OHS students were in a state of shock and disbelief, as was the rest of the nation.
Sophomore Isabella Brauhn said the money raised from the T-shirt sales will be donated to victim funds or help the families with the cost of funerals.
“How could anybody do that to some random kids?” she said.
The 17 girls in Drake’s advisory class, along with two boys who wanted to help — Keven Galdamez and Storm Beltran — designed the T-shirts and have started selling them to fellow students.
Galdamez, a senior, said more security at schools is needed to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
No matter the age of the students, Feather said every school needs officers either in the building or nearby.
“I feel sorry that they have to live with that the rest of their lives,” Galdamez said of the surviving students.
The T-shirts will feature a ribbon with the date of the shooting and 26 stars for those who were killed at the school. The back of the shirts will say “Never forget,” and will list the names of the victims.
Each shirt costs $12, and anyone in the community can purchase one. The last day the students will take orders is Jan. 21.
They said they don’t have a goal of how much money they want to raise but are hoping to sell at least 200 shirts. Students can buy shirts from the advisory classmates. Those outside the school can call the main office at 641-683-4444 or contact Drake at extension 1231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of the classmates have younger siblings and said they can’t imagine how they would cope if they were taken away so suddenly.
“I have a whole new respect for little kids,” Feather said. “I don’t even know what I would have done at that age if it had happened to me.”
Brauhn said some believe that because they’re high school students and because they live so far away, that they can’t help.
“But you have to find a way to do something,” said sophomore Bethany Knox.
While two police officers are always at OHS, the students said it’s still possible something similar could happen here.
“It makes you wonder — is any place safe?” Feather said.
Galdamez said in his four years at OHS there have been four gun threats, including an alleged threat that was supposed to take place at OHS on Valentine’s Day last year.
While mass shootings seemingly happen more and more, Beltran said people shouldn’t be “complacent” or “get used to” hearing about them.
“Until something happens in this community, no one takes it seriously,” Feather said. “That’s part of the reason why some people are against buying the shirts.”
Knox said people need to realize that shootings of this nature don’t just happen in movies or distant communities. They can happen right here.
“A week after the fact, people forgot about it and they stopped talking about it,” Beltran said. “People would rather forget about the problem.”
Feather said some adults have looked down on them for doing this because they’re so young.
“Sometimes you have to think about the bad things in order to make them better,” Knox said.
Drake said she didn’t hear about the shooting until her last class of the day, at around 2:30 p.m., when she overheard students talking about it.
“My first reaction was curiosity,” Drake said. “I went to the Internet for a news source because I didn’t want to believe what the kids were telling me.”
Unfortunately, the news was true.
“I’m a mother; I have four kids,” Drake said. “It broke my heart for those families.”
While something similar could happen in Ottumwa, she said there are plans and procedures in place — just as there were in Newtown — for what students and staff need to do in case of a shooting.
“I am really proud of them for not only coming up with the idea but for following through,” she said of her students. “It’s so generous for them to do something for people they don’t even know.”
She also said she understands their frustrations with adults.
“They’re expecting adults to be proud of their willingness to help others in times of need because we encourage them to do that,” she said. “To have staff members look down on them because they’re so far away or they’re young — I understand their frustrations.”