Fairfax school says ‘We stand with Parkland’

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From students crouching under desks during nuclear bomb drills in the 1950s to students hiding in closets during active shooter drills today, the threat of violence has never been far from this country’s children. But the menace became real at a Parkland, Fla., high school Feb. 14 when a 19-year-old former student allegedly killed 17 people and terrorized hundreds of others. 

The activism of the Parkland teens has inspired students at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax to set aside 17 days to remember the victims. 

On the front lawn of Paul VI, a large and simple banner tied to the fence reads, “We stand with Parkland.” During the morning announcements, Father Stephen J.  Schultz, chaplain, prays for one victim, and later offers a Mass for him or her. He and other faculty have been inspired by the students’ initiative.

“Teenagers are all about action, but they wanted to take this as an opportunity for more reflection and conversation,” he said. “The laws of the country might change, but what really needs to change is each one of us.”

The frequency of mass shootings has caused many Americans to hear the news, then disengage, including several Paul VI students. “It honestly did not hit me at first,” said senior Megan Revor. “There have been a lot of shootings, I remember being like ‘Geez, another one.’ ” 

But a few students, including Anastasia Carvalhais and Noah Strike, decided they needed to do something, and they encouraged others. Now, different student groups are taking turns planning the daily memorials and spreading fliers around campus.

For Chloe Tarbell, thinking deeply about the tragedy began in apologetics class, then in philosophy club. “It was about what is suffering and what does it mean to suffer with others?” she said. “We can’t degrade someone's suffering by just asking what were the causes and how do we immediately fix it. You have to delve into and feel it and then ask the question why do these things happen?”

Around 30 members of the Paul VI community gathered March 1 in the chapel after school to remember the life of one Parkland victim: Nicholas Dworat, 17. Seventeen candles burned on the windowsill as a student reflected on Dworat’s life. Another student read from Romans, “We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” 

Sara Garstka was one of the students who planned the service. “When I started working on what I was going to say, I saw that he was a swim captain and I'm one of our swim captains, so it felt really real all of a sudden,” said Garstka. “I had to come cry with Jesus. How terrible it is that he goes to school and thinks he’s going to swim practice after. He’s never going to get to do that thing that brings him joy again, at least in this world.”

“And that's what most of our prayer services are aimed toward — contemplating what is actually lost here,” said Revor. “This isn’t just a name.”

Tarbell added, “We can love them more for the people that they were, and that can make us care and want to take action.”

Other diocesan schools are keeping the Parkland community in their prayers, including Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria and Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, which will hold prayer services for the Parkland victims March 14 as part of a nationwide effort.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018