Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on April 10th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 6

Santa Maria students unite to take on gun violence in schools


It was still spring break for local high school students on the morning of April 5, and while many kids were probably sleeping through one of their last days off, six students were up and at 'em by 9 a.m., busy organizing another march against gun violence.

"This time I think we should really stress that we're not anti-gun or Second  Amendment, but pro-regulation," St. Joseph High School freshman Elizabeth Souza said between bites of French toast. "I think that's why some people don't like us, because they think we're anti-gun."

Angie Ho, a senior at Ernest Righetti High School and founder of Santa Maria Valley United, speaks through a megaphone outside Santa Maria High School at a march for gun safety on March 24. The coalition provided attendees with information regarding students’ rights during protests and ways to contact local representatives.

Souza, 15, is one of the youngest members of Santa Maria Valley United, a recently formed coalition made up of politically concerned student representatives from several local high schools. She and other members met for the first time on Feb. 24, when they planned citywide school walkouts for March 14 to commemorate the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The coalition also helped out at a march for gun policy reform on March 24, when dozens of protesters called on Santa Maria city officials to create a buffer zone between gun stores and schools.

The buffer zone is an idea that not everyone in the coalition necessarily agrees with, and Souza said the upcoming march—scheduled for the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20—should be open to students with varying views.

Souza suggested the coalition focus equally on other topics that could help prevent gun violence, including improvements to the mental health care system.

"I think at schools mental health needs to be talked about more," Souza said, a statement that garnered major support from her fellow coalition members.

Natalie Tayahua, a junior at St. Joseph High School, nodded and said that finding an affordable therapist on the Central Coast is "virtually impossible."

Zander Moreno, a junior at Pioneer Valley High School, also agreed, and said he has yet to receive any kind of mental health education in school.

"I remember in my health class we literally skipped over the mental health chapter in our books," Moreno said, adding that while many schools do have on-site counselors, most students either don't know about them or how to get an appointment.

"We kind of need to start talking about these things," he said.

Angie Ho, a senior at Ernest Righetti High School, hurriedly typed notes on her laptop as her peers discussed possible ways to deter school shootings. She added, "more extensive mental health education, on-site psychologists, and adoption of an open door policy with counselors," to the coalition's list of legislative demands.

Ho founded Santa Maria Valley United in February, somewhat accidentally, when she and a few of her friends from Righetti decided to plan a walkout at their school. She reached out to friends from Santa Maria High School, who contacted friends at another school, and so on until the coalition was born.

"We were just sick and tired of people talking about it and not doing anything," Ho said in an interview with the Sun. "Then I realized if you're not going to take up the work to organize it, no one else will."

Despite her major role in planning the March 14 walkouts, Ho and her fellow students at Righetti and St. Joseph high schools were placed on lockdown until just before noon that day after a shooting threat was posted on social media, long after students at other schools had walked out and returned to class. Although Righetti students held a small rally after the lockdown, Ho said they'd like to stand together in a more impactful way on April 20, when students across the city and nation plan to march again.

Coalition members were still working through some major obstacles at their breakfast meeting on April 5, including a shorter schedule that public schools have but private schools won't on April 20. But Ho said it's just good to be working together.

"I think it makes a greater statement with each school participating," Ho said. "It shows that we all have concerns with gun safety."

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at

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