Never Forget: A Day of Service and Love

By Bobby R. Henry, Sr.

    It’s been five years, but Broward County Public Schools is still healing from one of the most horrific school shootings in America’s history.

    On what is supposed to be the international day of love, hate filled the hallways and classrooms of the freshman building of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School. When the dust settled, 17 people, 14 beautiful children and 3 caring adults lives were taken.

    ⁃    Alyssa Alhadeff

    ⁃    Martin Duque Anguiano

    ⁃    Nicholas Dworet

    ⁃    Jaime Guttenberg

    ⁃    Luke Hoyer

    ⁃    Cara Loughran

    ⁃    Gina Montalto

    ⁃    Joaquin Oliver

    ⁃    Alaina Petty

    ⁃    Meadow Pollack

    ⁃    Helena Ramsay

    ⁃    Alex Schachter

    ⁃    Carmen Schentrup

    ⁃    Peter Wang

    ⁃    Scott Beigel

    ⁃    Aaron Feis and

    ⁃    Chris Hixon.

    Today makes five years of tears, struggle and hardship on the families, MSD community and an entire school district. But instead of wallowing in misery, Broward County Public Schools has committed to lingering in a constant state or remembrance and love. At every single school in Broward county, February 14 is a day where teachers and students engage in projects and acts of service to remember those lost. Over the last five years, some of the projects have included:

    Meadowbrook Elementary School planted 17 palm trees for the 17 victims; Boca Raton High School displayed 17 empty desks in their courtyard. Other acts of love and service include school, street, and beach clean ups,  feeding and clothing the hungry and homeless, visiting and caring for the elderly at geriatric homes, breakfast to honor first responders, and reading to younger children.

    At exactly 10:17 AM on February 14, every school will participate in a moment of silence and Dr. Valerie Wanza, the task assigned superintendent will address Broward students and staff with a message. The names of the 17 victims will be read at all secondary schools.

    Board chair, Lori Alhadeff lost her daughter, Alyssa at MSD on that day.  As a part of her healing, Alhadeff joined the Board to advocate for safety in schools and ensure students of all walks of life receive the education she dreamed of for her daughter. Alhadeff initially struggled to find her sweet spot on the Board, but five years later, Alhadeff has emerged as a strong voice and powerful force on the dais. She continues to push for measures that tighten safety and security processes in schools and district buildings. She has taken a particular interest in Pine Ridge Center, the behavior center where the PROMISE program is housed. She believes in early intervention for troubled youth. She sought out additional funding to add instructional staff and counselors for troubled students and their families.  Alhadeff has advocated for funding to ensure the school has a music program, even donating Alyssa’s band instrument to the school for students who are unable to afford an instrument. In 2020, Alhadeff pushed state legislators to support Senate Bill 70 which resulted in the passing of Alyssa’s Alert. Alyssa’s Alert is a mobile panic notification system to ensure real-time 911 emergency coordination between first responder agencies and public schools.

    It is safe to say that Alyssa is smiling and is proud of her mommy.

    Vice-chair, Debra Hixon also lost her husband, Chris Hixon in 2018 at MSD. Chris Hixon was the Athletic Director at the school, and he was a champion of all students, not just athletes. Like Alhadeff, Debra Hixon joined the Board because she is committed to making schools and the surrounding communities safe. She vowed to visit the campus of every single school, and she met that goal within two years of being on the Board. She is also committed to continuing Chris’s legacy of making a difference in the lives of students. As president of the Chris Hixon Athletic Scholarship, Debra Hixon ensures thousands of dollars each year reach the pockets of athletes who need additional funds to attend and finish college. Chris, a US Navy veteran is proudly saluting Debra as she continues to expand his legacy.

    To see the results of the school and community service projects of the over 225 schools in Broward, search social media or the internet using #2getherInServiceandLove.

    The Westside Gazette joins Broward Schools in remembering and honoring those lost on February 14, 2018. #2getherInServiceAndLove.

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