This Is What It Means To Be #MarshallStrong

It’s been nearly a month since the shooting at Marshall County High School, but in the wake of national conversations on gun control, mental health, and school safety, it’s not getting any easier for us Kentuckians to shake the memories.

In the past weeks, we’ve witnessed a tragedy beyond comprehension. I teach just two counties over from Marshall, but I still can’t imagine the grief and shock that the community must have felt after the tragedy. And now, after another school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, students in Marshall County find themselves reliving those memories all over again.

“Watching them going out single file like that right now, it kinda brings back seeing people running. It just brings back bad memories, and it kinda hurts,” said David Hilbrecht, a Marshall County student, in an interview with WYMT. As MCHS parent Vicky Young explained, “Both of my daughters went to Marshall County High School, I went to Marshall County High School. Both of them that day came to see me when they got off work, said they just needed mommy hugs… No matter what goes on, the town always pulls together. It’s a great town. Everybody knows everybody.”

Such is life in rural Kentucky, and I know the MCHS community is proud of that. Right now, orange and blue ribbons dot the Marshall County landscape, bearing the perfect phrase to sum up the community’s response: #MarshallStrong. It’s a movement that’s sweeping the whole Bluegrass State right now. Students and teachers are uniting to show their support, and even the UK men’s basketball team has honored the victims of the shooting. An absolute tragedy in a remote, rural area of Kentucky has brought the entire state together.

The response we’ve witnessed has been nothing short of amazing. That’s what I want us to think about right now. Kentucky education is by no means perfect, but seeing everyone come together after a crisis like this gives us a glimpse of all the things that are right with Kentucky schools.

Communities Are Built Through Tragedy, But Must Endure Beyond

It’s no secret: it takes everyone working — parents, teachers, students, and community members alike — to make schools work. Marshall County knows that better than anyone right now. As MCHS student Keasha Smith explained, “We’re not just a school, we’re not just a county, we’re not just a town, we’re family. I feel like when we go back, everyone is going to be more together. Everyone is going to appreciate everyone.”

It’s encouraging to see that in the Marshall County community, but the way the whole state has been energized to show love and support has been downright inspiring. We’re seeing solidarity from across the state. We’re seeing Kentucky school districts re-evaluate their school safety plans to ensure this never happens again. And we’re seeing students, parents, and just generally good people from across Kentucky banding together through social media to raise donations, hold vigils, and send messages of positivity.

But on a different note, I do think it’s worth pointing out that it shouldn’t take a tragedy for us to show the love and support we’re seeing right now. Think about it: how amazing would it be to see Kentucky schools interacting and supporting each other on a regular basis? What if every Kentucky school could build a culture where parent, teacher, and student interaction like this is the norm? I think every kid in Kentucky deserves a supportive community like Marshall County, but it shouldn’t take a tragedy to get us to that point.

The fact that a shooting happened here in our home state is horrific, and my sincere prayer is that this never happens again. Not in Kentucky, not anywhere. But even in this dark time of mourning, coping, and eventual healing, I’m inspired by what I’m seeing across Kentucky. I love this state — both its schools and its students — and proud of the love we’re spreading. This is what it means to #MarshallStrong, and Kentucky is walking the walk.

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