Wednesday morning, exactly two weeks after the tragedy that changed the path of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School forever, many students stepped back onto campus. After making their way through difficult traffic and sea of cop cars, underclassmen and upperclassmen alike faced the building where 17 students lost their lives. It was difficult for many students, like senior Julia Salomone.
“I was really anxious; I kind of felt like there was a rock on my chest,” Salomone said.
Yet, the Eagles persevered. Students hesitantly traveled from class to class, greeted by a gathering of therapy dogs and school counselors. The mood was quiet, and emotions varied between heartbroken and hopeful. For many, being back in school provided a sense of normalcy that had been missing.
Freshman Vanessa Williams believes coming back to school has been beneficial.
“The more I come back to school, the more I get used it,” Williams said. “The teachers are being really nice about it.”
Her day revolved around hugging therapy dogs and being reunited with her friends. Many students began to feel a little bit like high schoolers again.
However, the day was anything but normal. Rather than jump into curriculum, teachers and staff focused on the healing process. Favoring play-doh and puzzles over textbooks and homework, many teachers simply spent their time talking to the students. The classes, only 24 minutes long, had many teachers just sitting and discussing where they planned to go from here.
Many teachers, such as AP Language and Composition teacher Laurie Edgar, emphasized that everyone has different healing processes. Others, like AP Human Geography teacher Ivy Schamis, said that there would be no worrying about grades for the rest of the quarter.
Every class was different for every student, as many came to realize. Some classrooms had a more lighthearted atmosphere, accompanied by therapy dogs and board games. Others acted as a form of release, with teachers like yearbook advisor Sarah Lerner leading the class in a meditation session. Some just let the group cry, and others took a more educational stance. Ultimately, the entire school staff was geared towards making the transition back into school as comfortable as possible.
Unfortunately, the day was not as therapeutic for every student as many had hoped. Salomone, in particular, struggled to adjust.
“I was in a big crowd of people, and I just freaked out,” Salomone said. “I kind of went into autopilot and kept running.”
Situations like this, along with the constant presence of tears and anxiety among many students, raised concerns about trauma in school.
For some, the trauma was present in the ever-looming building where the shooting took place. For others, it was in loud bangs that reminded them of gunshots. In some classes, students feared the next fire drill and how they may react to it. Despite being back in class, the PTSD present reminded students of just how different everything is.
That is not to say that the day was all bad, though. Even students like Salomone, who had a bad first day, remain positive. She recalls the grief counselors who just let her talk out feelings, and the cathartic crying she participated in with her fellow students. Ultimately, her and many other students remain hopeful for the rest of the year.