8 N.J. teen activists leading walkouts

8 N.J. teen activists leading walkouts

14 Mart 2018 - 02:00

For students in New Jersey, watching the images of terrified high schoolers as gunman massacred 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school last month felt personal.

Eighth-grader Jane Halpern, of Upper Saddle River, is a dancer like one of the 14-year-old victims. Zach Fessler, 17, said Parkland is a community just like his in Upper Saddle River. And Hannah White said one of victims looked just like one of her friends. 

"These people are our age, this is our generation, these are people we could have met in college, these people could have been our friends, our college roommates, our spouses and we never got a chance to meet them," White, of Basking Ridge, said. "Because they were taken by guns."

Students in Parkland are channeling their anger into action, pushing lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws. And that student-led movement around safer schools -- and holding elected officials accountable -- is catching on in New Jersey.

NJ Advance Media spoke to students across the state who are organizing in their communities, inspired by the Parkland #neveragain movement. 

"It was the fact that this thing was directly happening to us," said Livingston High Schooler Sarah Giulianti, who is organizing a walkout at her school on March 14. "If something is affecting us, we should make an active effort to change it."

For some that means tighter gun laws. For others, it's about encouraging young people to vote. And for one of the younger activists, it's simply about getting involved

"No matter what age you are, you can try to make a difference and you can try to help those in need," Halpern, 14, said. 

Ben Shore, 17, Cherry Hill

What's one way to get more young people out to vote? If you ask high school senior Ben Shore: Lower the voting age to 16. 

Shore said seeing what happened in Parkland made him realize he had to fight for increased protections inside his local schools. 

"I will never let this happen to a Cherry Hill school, or any school. I have a little brother, I have a responsibility myself to make sure that he's protected, too," Shore, a student at Cherry Hill High School East said. Shore organized a student walkout last month and is organizing another one on March 14 for national school walkout day

"Parkland was the thing that woke the students up that it was time to walk out," Shore, 17, said, adding that his school had not held a protest in at least 20 years. "That's when I knew that I had to step up big; we were fighting for our lives."

But for Shore, activism has always been a part of his life. His father is a civil rights attorney and Shore remembers fighting for more balls during recess when he was in fourth grade. He later helped pass a law, named after his goldendoodle service dog, Charlie, that imposes fines on anyone who denies access to a service dog. 

And now, he's focused his efforts on allowing school resource officers to be armed inside schools and lowering the voting age in local elections. Shore says he plans to run for School Board. 

"Anything's possible, it just takes one person to make a difference," he said. "It's like a chain reaction ... it takes one person to start a chain reaction."


(Courtesy: Leah Halpern)

Jane Halpern, 14, Upper Saddle River

On a recent night, Jane Halpern's garage was filled with middle schoolers at work. There were patterned tapes and colored papers, stickers and glittered hearts. This wasn't a school assignment. This was all about sending good vibes and love more than 1,200 miles away. 

"We want them to know New Jersey is here for them. We can't imagine what they're going through but we can try to help them get past this," Halpern, 14, an eighth-grader at Cavallini Middle School in Upper Saddle River said. "I thought maybe if we give them cards that can make them smile because there's sticker on it, that's inspiring. They'll feel a little better."

Halpern organized a card-making campaign called "Help the Eagles Fly Again," to write messages of support to the students at Stoneman Douglas. The cards are meant to be uplifting -- and make them laugh. 

"We made funny stickers on them to make them laugh. Unicorns, mermaids, dream catchers, smiley faces," Halpern said. She was able to get a donation from her local Michaels arts and crafts store. Staples donated printed logos of Stoneman Douglas High School

Halpern set up a table at school and then invited other students from her community to her house. All told: More than 330 cards will be delivered to Parkland in April. 



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