Students were silent for a few moments Friday during Jeff Brookey’s third-period Concert Choir class, focused on the task of writing notes of encouragement to students they’d never met but wholeheartedly support at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen people were killed during a mass shooting there on Feb. 14.
La Cañada High School freshman Maggie MacKenzie arrived to school last week with about 80 cards and, with Brookey’s permission, passed them out to her choir classmates to sign.
She wanted to do it, she said, after her father, Jack MacKenzie, mentioned seeing a Facebook post in the La Cañada Flintridge Parents group. The post called for letters of support to arrive in time to greet Stoneman Douglas students when they returned to school for the first time Thursday, March 1.
That post, which was widely shared, is attributed to Diane Wolk-Rogers, a teacher at Stoneman Douglas. She wrote: “I would like to greet them all on the first day back with letters of support. I want them to hold the envelopes addressed from around the world to see that they are not alone and there are still kind and caring people in this world. If you would like to participate, please send the letters.”
Jack MacKenzie said when he showed the post to his daughter, “she gave me the nod, like, ‘We ought to do that,’ so I said, ‘Then we’ll do it.’”
Maggie and her mom, Nora MacKenzie, went to the store and purchased the cards — which went so fast Friday that Maggie didn’t even have an opportunity to write one at school.
“I wish we’d bought 200 of them,” said Jack MacKenzie, who wound up mailing 90 cards to Florida on Saturday.
Maggie said she and her classmates all have talked a lot about what happened there, so the opportunity to express support for those students seemed like the right thing to do. She also distributed some cards in her 4th-period ensemble theater class.
“If you were in their situation, you would want that kind of support from everyone, not just in your town, but from everyone,” Maggie said. “I really just want them to know how strong they are, not only for going through this at our age, but for speaking out against it.”
Brookey said his students took it seriously.
“It was so silent. Everybody wrote something. They were all taking the time to write thoughtful messages,” he said. “And then afterward, we had a talk about how they’re feeling about all these events. There are different feelings going on. It’s been an emotional year, with so many things going on, starting with Las Vegas and all these things.
“Some teachers chose not to talk about it, but choir is a different environment; sometimes it feels like choir is therapy. There’s a lot of problems in the world, but singing and music can be someone’s refuge.”
Letter-writing seemed to work somewhat the same way, said Jack MacKenzie, who said he had no doubt the exercise served as a “release valve for these kids.”
And Brookey concurred: “First of all, it’s good for the recipients, but it’s also a healing thing for the students writing. It’s a chance for them to really think about what’s occurred. You don’t want to get desensitized, and there’ve been so many tragic acts, it’s important not to think about it as just another incident.
“So even though they don’t know who they were writing to, they knew they were writing to a person, and that was a really good experience for them.”