Santa Ana High students engage in real-time civics lesson with peers from Broward County, Florida

Students in a classroomThe walkouts had ended nearly two hours earlier. But inside a classroom at Santa Ana High School, an important civics lesson was just beginning.

About two hours after Wednesday’s planned national protests over gun violence, members of the Santa Ana High speech and debate team took part in a Skype video chat on the topic with their counterparts from Nova High School in Broward County, Florida.

Nova is located about 25 miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, and the two sites are both part of Broward County Public Schools. As such, the horrific Valentine’s Day shooting that took 17 lives was understandably more personal to the Nova students, many of whom occasionally traveled to Stoneman Douglas for team competitions. Some said they had friends who attended Stoneman Douglas.

Students in a classroom

A Santa Ana High School student poses a question to members of the speech and debate team at Nova High in Broward County, Florida.

For about 45 minutes, high schoolers from Santa Ana took turns posing questions to their Nova peers, who were projected onto a whiteboard. Specifically, the local teens wanted to know how Nova was doing since the shooting, what the next day was like, and whether students there received pushback for speaking out.

They also wanted to hear Nova’s thoughts on how U.S. schools can help put an end to campus shootings.

The Nova speech and debate squad appointed a different member to respond to each question. Yet they presented an organized and unified front, applauding one another’s answers as they encouraged Santa Ana students to register to vote as soon as they’re able, research the issues thoroughly and make their voices heard.

“Political participation does matter,” one Nova student said.

“The biggest thing that you guys need to tell your community,” said another, “is that your voice not only matters but can change the world.”

Wednesday’s Skype call was initiated by Sal Tinajero, who, in addition to being a Santa Ana city council member, is the speech and debate coordinator for Santa Ana Unified. Through competitions, he had previously connected with Nova High speech and debate coach Courtney​ ​Chipman.

Tinajero proudly notes that SAUSD is just the second district in the nation to adopt a speech and communications program that extends all the way into the elementary grades. Broward County, he adds, was the first. But that’s not all the two schools have in common.

“We have issues out in our city involving gun violence,” Tinajero said. “The laws that they’re going to be discussing affect everyone.”

Afterward, Santa Ana High freshman Cielo Echegoyen said she was inspired by the opportunity to dialogue with like-minded students three time zones away.

“It puts in perspective everything that they’ve been doing,” said Cielo, 15. “I’m just really thankful and I’m feeling empowered by it right now.”