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Image courtesy of Meredith Kroll
Image courtesy of Meredith Kroll
Students at I.S. 93 Ridgewood make a banner to send to the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Nationwide support for the community of Parkland, Florida, after a gunman opened fire and took 17 lives inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has come in all forms, including letters of support, donations to grieving families, a meeting with the president and now a work of art from the students of a Ridgewood middle school.

At I.S. 93 Ridgewood, art teacher Meredith Kroll and her students spent a week creating a banner with drawings and messages of support and hope, and on March 5 they mailed it to the recovering Florida school. Kroll said that as an educator and a parent, the way she felt when returning to her school building after the February break made her want to take action.

Even when I returned to the building it was just somber,” Kroll said. “I didn’t feel like myself, and I’m so far removed and I still felt it so strongly.”

But Kroll wasn’t as far removed as most. Her husband is related to 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, a freshman at the school who was killed during the shooting. During the February recess, Kroll and her husband — a teacher in Ridgewood at I.S. 77  — flew down to Florida to attend the funeral.

The scene there was incredibly emotional, Kroll said, as so many students, faculty and family members were at the funeral service that the aisles of the church were full and there were people standing outside. She described Alhadeff as an avid soccer player, a great friend and an honor student with an “incredibly bright future.”

“So many friends got up to speak about her character,” Kroll said. “It was wonderful to hear the stories, but it was the saddest funeral I could have ever expected to go to.”

The shooting reignited the national debate about about gun control legislation, and many students and members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas community have been the leaders of that charge. Alyssa’s mother, Lori Alhadeff, became one of the faces of the movement when she gave an emotional statement demanding change during an interview with CNN the day after the shooting.

“President Trump, you say what can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands,” Alhadeff said while looking into the camera. “What can you do? You can do a lot! This is not fair to our families and our children [to] go to school and have to get killed!”

Creating the banner allowed Kroll to open up this conversation to her students as well. She said the group discussed what it would feel like to be in the shoes of those Marjory Stoneman Douglas students returning to school after this tragedy and sympathizing with them. Most of Kroll’s students were curious about the shooter, what drove him to do something so unimaginable and the warning signs of his behavior.

Kroll added that the conversation also touched on school safety, and she hopes such incidents lead to students taking safety drills more seriously.

The banner stretches for nearly the width of a classroom in I.S. 93 and is covered with a colorful display of hearts, eagles, inspirational quotes and drawings. Kroll said that the entire school was invited to come into her room and participate whenever they had free time.

The eagle, which is the mascot of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, became the lasting theme of the banner when one of the students found a quote that touched them all:

When a storm is coming, all other birds seek shelter,” it reads in large letters on the top, left corner of the banner. “The eagle alone avoids the storm by flying above it, so in the storms of life, may your heart soar like an eagle.”

Photo courtesy of Meredith Kroll

Photo courtesy of Meredith Kroll

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