Stoneman Douglas students return: ‘A bittersweet day here for everyone’


Diane Wolk-Rogers prepared for the first school bell of the year Wednesday morning in ways unlike any of her previous 33 years of teaching.

Of course, there were lessons to be planned for her history students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Bulletin boards to be hung. Desks to be arranged.

But a workshop on how to plug a bullet hole in a dummy?

“It’s a different kind of workshop, that’s for sure,” said Wolk-Rogers, 57. “We sat there with a rubber dummy with a bullet hole and I never knew with gauze how deep you have to go in. And how to use the special tourniquet and what’s in the blood-control kits.”

Blood-control kits. Along with pencils and laptops, they’re standard supplies in classrooms now at Douglas, site of a mass shooting Feb. 14 that claimed the lives of 14 students and three faculty members.

The massacre sparked national debates over school safety, mental health and gun violence that continue to this day. It cast a cloud over the final months of the 2017-18 school year. Sunrise Wednesday wasn’t just the dawn of a new day, but a new year, a fresh year, with kids scurrying to beat the 7:40 a.m. first bell.

“Why are you guys so late?” a crossing guard joked as three boys crossed Pine Island Road to enter the campus. There was beefed-up security, including a sole entry to the school. But in many ways, there was an air of normalcy not afforded the Class of 2018 last spring.

Gone are the 17 makeshift memorials on the northeast corner of the campus. Gone are the banners of support sent from throughout the country that had covered nearly every inch of fencing around the perimeter of the school.

“Personally, I’m over what happened last year and I think we should all move on from it and it shouldn’t affect us this year,” said a junior named Emily, who did not want to give her last name.

Inside campus, students returned to find changes in the name of safety. Doors have new locks. There’s a new intercom system. New fencing. Fifty-two additional cameras and someone to monitor them. More security personnel, although Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward public schools, did not want to cite statistics. Still on campus: counselors and therapy dogs.

“I think it’s a bittersweet day here for everyone,” Runcie said. “I think everyone’s glad to get back and be reunited with the Eagle family here, but it’s six months away from the tragedy, which it feels like it happened just yesterday. So there are a lot of emotions going on. It’s still a challenging time for many of the students and faculty.”

It was a challenging summer for Wolk-Rogers, who attended one workshop on how to help traumatized students and another on how to assist students who may be suicidal. Last week came lessons in how to use blood-control kits supplied by firefighters from Parkland and Coral Springs.

“It was going to be hanging up on the wall anyway and it was going to give me anxiety,” Wolk-Rogers said of her kit. “This way, I wanted to learn all about it. It kind of takes away that chilling effect.”

These are precautionary measures Wolk-Rogers never could have imagined decades ago when she began her teaching career, skills she obviously hopes she’ll never have to use.

But she refuses to let them define this school year.

“Because of some of the things I did this summer, I really feel empowered and energized,” Wolk-Rogers said. “What I want is a year of healing, learning and love. That’s my mindset.

“I think most of the strength that I have is coming really from the memory that I have of the 17 beautiful lives that we’ve lost. I kind of feel like I have their love in me and their pulse and I want it to be that their short time on this earth was purposeful because it’s given so many of us — the survivors — a path forward trying to help this nation heal and make the world a better place.”

The tragedy turned many students, most notably the now-graduated Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, into activists. The same could be said of Wolk-Rogers, who first drew attention by confronting NRA spokesman Dana Loesch during a live CNN town hall one week after the massacre. Wolk-Rogers challenged Loesch — “using supporting detail” — to define a well-regulated militia. During another appearance on CNN, Wolk-Rogers said she wanted to give Loesch and President Donald Trump two-week detentions. Later, she gave a Ted talk in Vancouver on ending “senseless” violence. Her upcoming to-do list includes attending a symposium hosted by an architectural group that wants her input on how to make schools safe without making them resemble prisons.

On Monday, Wolk-Rogers invited a school resource officer into her classroom for a safety check.

“He had this great idea of taking this heavy filing cabinet — he moved it out of my closet and he put it by the door,” Wolk-Rogers said. If trouble broke out, “We can just kind of push it right in front of the door so that the shooter couldn’t come in.”

Students arriving Wednesday were met by Jay Hamm, a Jupiter resident and a fixture around Douglas who rides a bicycle equipped with a sidecar for his therapy dogs, K Poppy and Chibby Choo, who soaked up students’ attention.

“I had a couple of people almost cry,” Hamm said. “They said, ‘I needed this today.’ ”

Only 55 students transfered out of Douglas to another Broward public school after the tragedy. Enrollment Wednesday was 3,354, nearly identical to the 3,379 of one year ago.

Senior Austin Freese said he felt “a little bit nervous” as he entered the campus but added he had faith in teachers who “really care” about the students and their well-being.

“I wish I got my junior year back but there’s no way I could do that, so I’ve got to make the best of it,” Freese said.

Wolk-Rogers taught Carmen Schentrup, one of the students killed. Checking rolls, Wolk-Rogers saw she will be teaching students who were shot. She will teach others who lost siblings. She is determined to give all her students the very thing denied of the Class of 2018.

“The kids coming in this year deserve a high school experience and that’s what they’re going to get,” she said.



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