On Feb. 15 only 170 students, a mere 5 percent of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 3,278 students, attended school. Students still followed their silver day schedule classes, periods 1-4, which stretched over the length of a normal school day from 7:40 a.m.-2:40 p.m. However, the activities students experienced were not those of an average school day.
Prior to the week of Feb. 14, administration issued a form, which listed the four activities that would be available for students on campus on Feb.14, as well as an option not to attend school on Friday, Feb. 15. Based on the responses on the forms, administration expected 900 students to attend on that Friday, though the reality turned out to be much lower.
In anticipation that attendance numbers for both students and teachers would be lower than normal, administration asked each department to devise engaging activities for students to do, knowing that the regularly scheduled curriculum was going to be interrupted.
Each period, all the classes within each department met in one assigned classroom or location.
“All the classes combined, and we had special presentations and demonstrations,” astronomy teacher Brandon Jeter said.
Classes in the career and technology department met in the culinary room, where students whipped up pancakes, while classes from the science department entertained the students in the main courtyard with various experiments.
Chemistry teacher Sean Simpson used cornstarch mixed with water to create a non-Newtonian fluid. In other words, a type of goop was created, that reacts under pressure and forms a solid-like surface that a person can run across. As a result, students were able to run across the liquid.
Principal Ty Thompson and TV production teacher Eric Garner took turns testing out the experiment.
“There was something good about seeing Thompson getting involved and smiling for a minute,” Garner said.
Not only did Thompson engage with the students during Simpson’s experiment, but he also treated everyone on campus to lunch.
While the normal school day has two 36-minute lunch periods, those in attendance on the Feb. 15 got to enjoy an hour long lunch. During that time, an obstacle course was set up to get students active in the main courtyard.
“A cross-fit place came and set up a course,” Garner said. “Pretty much everybody went through the obstacles. It seemed to be a lot of fun for those who participated.”
Towards the end of the day, the science department ventured back outside to conduct a different experiment. This experiment was edible, acting as a dessert after lunch.
“I got some liquid nitrogen donated as well as some flowers from Publix,” Simpson said. “We made some ice cream with the liquid nitrogen.”
While both non-Newtonian fluid and ice cream were heavily enjoyed, Simpson had another surprise in store for the students. Instead of creating something, Simpson and Jeter brought some chaos to an otherwise calm day.
“Simpson had liquid nitrogen and a ton of flowers,” Garner said. “He froze flowers and froze oranges and froze pretty much anything we could find and put into liquid nitrogen, and then we dropped it and broke it.”
In total, 103 staff members, including teachers, office staff and security took a personal day on Friday, Feb. 15 Teachers who came to school for the day said they came in order to support their students.
“I came to school really to be here in support of the students as well as my peers. I felt like I was driven to come here, that I needed to be apart of this place,” Garner said. “I think if I sat at home by myself it just would not have been healthy for me. I needed to be active and see my students.”
The goal of the day was to provide students with an activity-filled day to help distract themselves from the trauma they experienced the year before.
“I think it is important that we always are learning during the school day, that we do not waste time. Just about any day that I can be, I’m here,” Jeter said. “Also, some kids do not have anywhere else to go; they need to come to school. So we need to makes sure they have a day in which they can learn and have some fun while doing so.”
This story was originally published in the April 2019 Eagle Eye print edition.