Jaime Guttenberg dancing. Swim captain Nicholas Dworet swimming. Peter Wang standing proud in front of the American flag.
The latest issue of the Eagle Eye, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School news magazine, is a memorial to the 17 students and teachers who were killed less than two months ago in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
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Eagle Eye’s student journalists took over Guardian US last month during the March for Our Lives, which drew hundreds of thousands to rallies in Washington DC and around the world. Eagle Eye staffers reported from the Washington rally for the British newspaper, The Guardian.
But the student writers have also continued to mourn their classmates and teachers, a process that has turned ordinary school activities into acts of remembrance.
“They really wanted to capture the essence of who each person was,” Eagle Eye adviser and teacher Melissa Falkowski said of the memorial issue. “They were just really determined, even if it was going to be hard, they were determined to do it right.
“That was the mission of the issue. For some students, especially the ones who knew the people they were writing about, it was cathartic because it was a place for them to put their grief.”
The Eagle Eye staff decided to produce a memorial issue just days after the shooting, Falkowski said. Many students assigned to write profiles knew those who died. Writing was often emotional.
The student who profiled Nicholas interviewed his parents in his bedroom. The student journalist was crying by the end of the interview, Falkowski said. So were his parents.
“We left it for people to choose what they wanted to do,” Falkowski said. “Some kids weren’t ready to write any stories at all. When someone was having a particularly hard time, or they weren’t feeling comfortable, another editor would step in: ‘I’m going to do this interview for you.’ The kids leaned on each other a lot. The [profiles] were really hard to write.”
Even the process of editing the profiles was overwhelming, Falkowski said. Reading them brought home the enormity of the loss. She remembered crying as she tried to edit the issue.
At times, the student journalists had to step away from working to process their emotions, even as they worked around the clock to meet their deadline, the evening before leaving to cover the March for Our Lives in Washington.
Nikhita Nookala, 17, a copy editor, wrote the profile of Meadow Pollack, 18, and helped write another.
“When you profile them, you learn their whole personality and what they were like, and what they liked to do,” she said. “It makes you think, ‘If I knew this person, we could have been friends’.”
Nikhita lost her friend Carmen Schentrup, 16. Reading her profile, she said, “was something that I could appreciate. It was something that I didn’t have to think about the fact that she passed away. I could just think about all the great things about her. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to copy-edit.”
The Eagle Eye distributed the memorial magazine at the school last Friday, the end of the first week back from spring break.
“This was our way of saying goodbye to them,” Nikhita said. “Just making the issue and seeing it printed and published was therapeutic in a way. It was our way of moving on from it, as much as we can at this point. This is our way of finally putting that chapter to some kind of end, even though it will obviously never really be over.”
Among readers, Falkowski said, the response to the memorial issue was positive. “Today while reading this, I cried so hard that I had to walk out of class,” student Lauren Hogg tweeted.“It was so beautifully put together and realistic that I felt my friends and all the 17 that passed away were there with me reading it.”
A version of the memorial issue was reprinted by a local newspaper on Sunday, sharing the students’ work with the broader community. A digital issue of the magazine is available to view online for free or a US$10 donation to support student journalists’ trips to national conferences, Falkowski said.
The Eagle Eye and the high school’s yearbook, The Aerie, are also raising money online to support the school’s journalism programme.