A group of Randolph Union High School students is going beyond the borders of Vermont and traveling to Washington, D.C., to take part in the national "March For Our Lives" event on Saturday.
The March For Our Lives is demanding action on efforts to make schools safer and to enact laws that will help prevent gun violence and mass shootings. The event was planned in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 people dead.
Many Vermont students will be taking part in related events across the state this weekend, but 12 students and four teachers from Randolph Union High School have raised nearly $8,000 to make the trip to the nation's capital for the national march.
Teacher Carol McNair said the idea blossomed after watching the outcry from students at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the shootings took place.
"As soon as I heard them talk, I knew right away that I had to bring kids from our school to be part of it and to have their voices heard," McNair said, adding that the community has been mostly supportive of the trip.
"There's been a little pushback from a couple of community members that have concerns that this is a school sponsored or sanctioned trip. Almost all the money we're using has come from private donors and the students that are coming are required to do an academic component of the trip," McNair said.
"And one of our hopes is when we get back, this isn't the end of this — that it's just the beginning, and that we'll learn ideas that we can take back and do with members of our community."
McNair recruited student leaders and also members of a class called Randolph Area Narrative Documentary (RAND) that will document the event. Hunter Brassard, of Braintree, is one of those documentary students who will be headed to Washington, D.C.
"We wanted to document how powerful this march is going to be," said Brassard.
VPR's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with three Randolph Union High School students about their trip to D.C. to attend the March For Our Lives. Listen above for more.
Student Gillian Harris, of Randolph, said her parents were initially concerned about safety.
"My parents were really, like, worried about it," Harris said. "They're like 'Uh, I don't think so,' but I'm really passionate about, like, the cause so I kind of convinced them, because they're really worried about, like, safety issues and they were very, very hesitant about letting me go. But I'm really glad that they are now."
Student Natalie Strand, of Randolph, said before finding out about this chance to go to the national march, she was part of planning a recent walkout at her high school.
"I was involved in a small group of students that wanted to organize a walkout that happened last Tuesday, March 13th — because we had an in-conference day on the 14th which was the national day, where schools all around America walked out for 17 minutes. ... So I was involved in planning that and kind of talking about why we were doing it and getting students involved," Strand said.
Strand said when she heard about the opportunity to do attend the march in Washington, D.C., she decided to participate: "I want to go to represent my school and represent what I believe in, which is safety in schools."
As far as specific legislation, Harris said she would like to see a change in the minimum age to purchase a gun.
"In a lot of places there isn't even a wait period of, like, seven days or anything ... Kids who are really fired up or upset about something can get a gun if they're 18, and then they have this open chance to hurt people who are innocent, are just beginning their lives," Harris said.
"Because, like, the kids in Florida, when we did the walkout, they said the names of the 17 people who were killed. And a lot of them were, like, freshmen — like me — who are just beginning their stories and just starting their life. And that was taken from them because some kid was upset or angry or not emotionally stable, but he could go get a gun."
Brassard said his focus is on documenting the march, not on changing the gun laws.
"But what I want to focus on is not necessarily the guns, but the people who are able to get the guns," Brassard said. "Because I don't think it's the guns that are the problem. I think it's how people who are unstable are able to get the guns."
Harris said the students may have different opinions on gun laws, but they can come together around some issues.
"I can see where he's [Brassard's] coming from, and I can take his view and, like, respect it and understand it and totally agree with it on some aspects about how ... there might not be background checks, like, thorough enough so that people who are mentally unstable can just get a gun," Harris said. "So I totally agree with that, and I think that it's just really cool that we can all have diverse opinions and come together on this one matter."
The students do all agree that the shooting in Parkland, Florida, has pushed them into action.
Strand says she has been vocal on gun issues for over a year, but Parkland brought those concerns to the forefront.
"The Parkland shooting, for me personally, like, really kind of like opened my eyes in a way," Strand said. "Like I was aware that there were shootings in the past but I didn't really look into it as much as I am at this shooting just because it's been so, like, huge in America."
Harris said that the shooting in Parkland "woke people up in a way" to these school shooting events that have been happening in the country.
"By Parkland and those kids speaking up for, like, their own safety and their beliefs, really I think sent, like, this sense of, like, 'wake up' to everybody else who had strong opinions about it. ... Either saying, like, school safety or different gun control laws or different gun laws in general," Harris said.
Brassard said that he doesn't think there would be this action taking place if the Parkland shooting hadn't occurred.
"It's incredible the amount of support that these students have gotten from around the country," Brassard said. "I mean, we're in Vermont, we have no connection to them whatsoever. But here we are — we're going to D.C. to support them and to support all of the students in the country. We're going to support ourselves and everybody around us, and we're unified almost."