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Parkland students pour their feelings into poetry

Alex Schachter (Photo courtesy of Max Schachter)

Alex Schachter loved roller coasters so much that he penned a poem about how their “ups and downs” reflected the turbulent nature of life.

“It maybe [sic] too much for you at times — the twists, the turns, the upside downs,” he wrote.

Then last month, 14-year-old Schachter died in the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. When his father, Max Schachter, read his son’s piece at CNN’s town hall in March, he reflected that his son had no idea the “poem would become his future.”

Poetry has always been a vessel for mourning and understanding tragedy. Some research suggests that when traditional methods of coping fall short, prose and verse is the best way to release emotion and work through grief following loss.

Multiple studies on the therapeutic effects of “expressive writing” like poetry found that penning unexpressed feelings for less than an hour a day has positive effects on “frequency of physician visits, immune function, stress hormones, blood pressure, and a number of social, academic, and cognitive variables.” There is even a national association for the promotion of poetry in therapy.

Jenna Harris (Photo courtesy of Renée Harris)

Jenna Harris, a Parkland survivor, turned to poetry following her own ordeal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In her poem “None of this is Normal,” Harris reflects on the surreal turn her life took after the deaths of her classmates, promising them that “everything from now on is for you.”

Since the shooting, thousands of students have protested gun violence and staged walkouts an in effort to sway lawmakers on the issue of gun control. On March 24, March for Our Lives demonstrations will take place in Washington, D.C., and in communities across the U.S., led by students and families calling for an end to school shootings.

Read Alex and Jenna’s poems below.

Life is like a roller coaster

Life is like a roller coaster
it has some ups and downs
Sometimes you can take it slow or very fast
It maybe hard to breath at times
but you have to push yourself and keep going
Your bar is your safety
it’s like your family and friends
You hold on tight and you don’t let go
But sometimes you might throw your hands up
Because your friends and family will always be with you
Just like that bar keeping you safe at all times
It maybe too much for you at times — the twists, the turns, the upside downs
But you get back up
you keep chugging along
eventually it comes to a stop
you won’t know when or how
but you will know that’ll be time to get off and start anew
Life is like a roller coaster

Max Schachter has established Safe Schools for Alex and the Alex Schachter Scholarship Fund in his son’s memory.

None of this is Normal

I haven’t written about it yet
Maybe because writing was one of the things that felt
normal to me
But nothing about this feels normal

Seeing my classmates on the news
Being asked for interviews
Having celebrities tweet my town’s name
None of it feels normal

While in the closet
My body shook uncontrollably
I held the hands of my friends
And tried to hold in my tears
Because I didn’t want to think about who wouldn’t see their
loved ones these following years

My heart is racing
My insides are aching
I’m angry
I’m sad
But I am grateful that I am alive
And hungry for change
And for my school, for my community I’m filled with so much

None of this feels normal
But with a broken heart, I know all of this is true
And for each angel that was brutally ripped from us
Everything from now on is for you

Originally published on Youth Radioa non-profit media organization that trains young people in journalism, art and digital media