Last March, a group of high school seniors in North Conway planned a school walkout after the Parkland shooting. More than 300 students showed up. But now those seniors have graduated, and summer’s right around the corner.
The question of how to keep the momentum going was at the forefront of these senior’s minds towards the end of the school year.
Their first step was to put on two voter registration drives in May. Their second was to pass on the leadership to underclassmen.
Senior Molly Robert was one of the drives’ organizers, and after the walkout in March, she and others started a student group, called Eagles for Action. The group is focusing on changes in gun control policy and school safety.
“We’re offering our guidance and being really involved, getting their friends to their meetings,” propping them up and giving ideas, but they’re doing all the heavy lifting,” Robert said.
Phoebe Lyons is fifteen, a rising junior and the secretary of Eagles for Action.
“I would like to see more gun control,” she said.
She joined the group early on, and says one thing that’s been important to them, is hearing from all sides. One of the first things they did was invite a local gun shop owner to come in and talk with them at school.
“He answered all our questions. He even gave us some papers about what it takes to become in possession of legal gun,” Lyons said. “So I think it is just really beneficial for us to gain firsthand education on things like that. Because after that we knew what we were talking about.”
She and others in the group have written to their representatives and executive councilor and sent in letters to the editor, talking about things like universal background checks.
That, and the walkout, spurred a debate in the broader community. Some questioned the appropriateness of their actions, and others supported them.
“The question was, do we run the risk of not being able to communicate because that wall of you’re all this whatever this is, is up there or do people see that it's not you know one monolithic group of people,” said Kathleen Murdough. She’s a social studies teacher and the student group’s advisor
Murdough wants students to be politically engaged. She’s been tuned in to politics for a while. Before teaching, she worked on campaigns.
This year she brought in candidates running for the first congressional district seat to speak in her government class. After a while, students from outside her class started attending.
With the tension that inevitably comes with the topic of guns, she sees it as her role to teach her students how to talk about difficult issues.
Murdough described the process she encourages her students to use.
“If you want to hold an opinion, you have to know about it. You can’t have an opinion about stuff and you don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “Then it’s, ‘OK, what’s your opinion based on?’ And how do you speak about it in a way that isn't just screaming. ”
Murdough said she’s hearing more and more of these kinds of conversations in the hallways, between classes and at every Eagles for Action meeting.
She said it’s having a ripple effect at the school.
“Now there's a massive number who are involved engaged,” Murdough said, “And I've even had some say to me, ‘You know, last year I didn't think this was interesting. I was I was just kind of doing the work, and now I get it.’ ”
Heading into next school year, 13 students will carry on the work for Eagles for Action.
Phoebe said she’ll continue talking with students who aren’t in the group.
“My conversations have not so ended in progress but they haven't ended in hostility,” she said. “So I think that is progress in a way. ”
For Phoebe, things feel different for high schoolers.
“Everybody just knows that their voice can do something and people are starting to take that opportunity,” she said.
Over the summer, Eagles for Action will keep meeting. They’re building out a website and creating a social media presence. They’re planning events for the fall, like a forum with their school resource officer to get his take on school safety and gun control.
To kick off the next school year, they’ll have a table at the freshmen orientation, with the rest of Kennett High’s clubs, to explain what their group is about.