Immediately, the trio — student leaders and athletes at Pioneer High School — decided to pay tribute to the four people killed and seven wounded, allegedly by 15-year-old Oxford student Ethan Crumbley.
They urged classmates to wear blue and gold, the Oxford colors, and coincidentally those of the nearby University of Michigan, when they came to school last Friday. They crafted a hashtag, “Be the action.”
Their actions echoed the intense sympathy displayed around the state. A memorial to the fallen students keeps growing outside Oxford High, where flowers, signs and stuffed animals are accumulating under blue tents like those used for tailgating.
The school set up a drop box for condolence cards, while the Michigan football team honored Oxford at last Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game with patches reading “42,” the number worn by murdered Oxford football player Tate Myre. His stunned family was on the field for the opening coin toss at the game, in which Michigan beat Iowa, 42-3.
But the Pioneer students’ tribute never happened, for an unsettling reason. Last Thursday morning, rumors swept through school hallways and around the community of a social media threat against Pioneer High, one of 60 schools that closed across the state.
Not waiting for direction, students began leaving school in droves, some calling parents to collect them, others heading out the door to Main Street, where Michigan Stadium, known as the Big House, looms across the street. Classes across the entire district were canceled the next day.
As it turned out, the threats against Pioneer and the other schools were fake, but similar rumors continued to rattle Michigan high schools this week, such as one that drew police to a high school in Walled Lake. Dozens of students have been taken into custody or charged in connection with the threats.
If the false threat to Pioneer had turned out to be real, the trio told me they knew how to react. “We’ve been doing drills for lockdown since kindergarten,” said Kalosa-Kenyon, who went to a grade school in my old neighborhood on Ann Arbor’s west side.
These kids were taught to hide under desks, grab some books for throwing at an intruder and move furniture to block a door — lessons we never had to learn in the late 20th century.
Now, after Oxford, Baugh has added another skill: She considers, “What shoes am I going to wear today?” — not to make a fashion statement, but in case she has to dash out of the building.
Speaking at a coffee shop across from their school, the students said they’ll launch a new tribute by selling wristbands reading “#OxfordStrong” alongside the date of the shooting and donate the dollars raised to whichever charity Oxford High designates.
For them, Oxford’s impact is as tangible as those elastic bracelets. It has added another layer of stress to those from the pandemic, which forced them into remote learning and is still disrupting the school calendar, because of staff shortages and outbreaks.
The persistent fear of violence, coupled with covid-19’s disruptions, dwarfs these students’ perpetual concerns about getting into college, and they are determined to spare their younger siblings what they are going through.
“I don’t want my little brother to have these kind of fears,” Kalosa-Kenyon says.
They ask two things of adults: First, understand the impact the school shootings are having on students’ mental health. Boomers and Gen X parents might express sympathy, but they rarely experienced what young people in every part of the country now brace for.
Hearing the Oxford news, “my heart sank. I was like, ‘Wow, another one,’” Baugh says.
Second, don’t view remote learning as a shield from danger. Webb points out that unhappy home lives can be treacherous for some young people, who use classrooms as a refuge. “School is a place where they can flourish and feel safe,” she says.
Kalosa-Kenyon believes it’s better for students to be around their peers, where they can also share the buoyancy of sports. “I can’t imagine how I’d be doing right now if I couldn’t play soccer,” he says.
Adds Webb: “I want to go to school. I want to learn subjects in class. I want to see my teachers. I want to be able to have face-to-face conversations.”
They all deserve to do so, without hiding under their desks or ordering wristbands for fundraisers. It’s up to us to make sure they can rush happily, not fearfully, out the school door.