By Katrina Scalise Republican-American
NAUGATUCK — About half of Naugatuck High School’s 1,200-plus student body gathered Friday morning in their football stadium’s bleachers to rally for National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
The assembly was organized by the newly formed NHS chapter of Students Demand Action, which works alongside the Moms Demand Action organization. The national grassroots movement fights for public safety measures to protect people from gun violence.
“I think these kids did an incredible job of turning their grief and anger about Uvalde into real action,” Principal John Harris said, referring to last week’s school shooting in Texas that left 19 students and two teachers dead. “I’m really impressed. I mean this was an optional event, but we had an incredible turnout of kids who are passionate about this.”
Junior Emily Sturtevant was the student organizer of the rally, but she credited the event’s success to a group effort.
“We all came together and decided to make this happen … after learning about the shooting in Texas,” Sturtevant said. “We were like, ‘This is not OK. We really need to do something. We need to make a change.’ So we took action.
“We’re lucky to live in a state where the majority of our politicians agree we need to change how we see guns in America. I think what we want to do most is encourage people in states that don’t have officials that think the same way to do the same,” she added.
Sturtevant has engaged in activist causes before, participating in a Black Lives Matter walkout last year and organizing a speaking event for U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, at the school.
Rally organizers encouraged fellow students to wear orange to “bring awareness to the signs of gun violence that often go unnoticed,” said Mia Daley, a student speaker. NHS Students Demand Action members wore orange T-shirts that read “Protect Children Not Guns.”
Students made speeches about recent mass shootings and measures to prevent gun violence.
“Our voices are powerful,” Medeea Ionescu said. “We shape the future of our nation.”
Alex Filandro shared how school shootings are significant to younger generations.
“We have grown up in a world where every mass shooting and nationwide tragedy is just a morning’s worth of breaking news, a push notification, a Snapchat story, a Tik Tok,” Filandro said. “But we are the ones who will have to fix it (gun violence).”
Jada Brown read a poem that focused on raising awareness of gun violence from the perspective of a Black teenager.
Carolina Rychlik announced the names of victims of mass shootings, including Uvalde, Buffalo and Sandy Hook.
“They deserve to be recognized and remembered,” she said.
Naugatuck has a special connection to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Dawn Hochsprung, a member of Naugatuck High School’s 1983 graduating class, was the principal and one of six adults killed. Hochsprung’s family established the Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Memorial Fund to benefit NHS graduates in 2013.
As part of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, the NHS Students Demand Action chapter organized a fundraiser, with all proceeds donated to Sandy Hook Promise. The students sold orange ribbons during lunch periods and set up a GoFundMe page. So far they have raised more than $575 for the nonprofit, with $420 from ribbon sales alone.
Sturtevant said the Sandy Hook shooting personally affected her and her fellow students.
“We’re all 16, 17, 18 years old … those kids, the ones who were killed, would have been our age today,” she said. “So it really hits close to home.”