Purposeful Passions with Astrid Code: a petition for change

I’m Astrid, the Editor-in-Chief of the Northern Light. In my column Purposeful Passions, I want to tell the stories of PN students who are passionate about making a difference in the world. In this installment, we meet junior Dillon Nissen and senior Katelyn Koss, who are advocating for increased campus safety measures for PN students.  Email me at [email protected] if you have or know of a story that I should feature!


“I am only 17, and I have my whole life ahead of me,” junior Dillon Nissen wrote in his petition to the PPS school board. “School shootings have always been prevalent, but recently they’ve reached an all time high. With this threat abroad, the lack of security and safeguards in our schools is extremely worrying.” 

Dillon Nisson’s Change.org petition to increase campus safety has already garnered 769 signatures (courtesy of Katelyn Koss).

Nissen is passionate about school safety from gun violence. He was in Portage Central High School one day and saw many Portage Northern students who had similarly walked in and were hanging out with Portage Central kids with no resistance. Similarly, he has recognized students from Portage Central in the hallways at Northern.  “I go in the halls sometimes for seminar, and I see Central kids come up and just hang out with Northern kids, and they’ll talk and they just walk through the doors to leave,” said Nissen. “I’m hoping that our security at our schools changes, and it’s not just our school, it’s every school around here.”

“I have heard rumors of this happening but I have never seen it personally. The only situation that I’m aware of where non-PN students tried to come into the building resulted in them being turned away at the entrance without ever making it inside,” said PN’s Police Liaison Officer Brannon Pierman. “The most important thing to keep in mind with this is that staff members cannot possibly know every student in a school this size, but students know their classmates. If a student sees someone in the building who does not belong they need to tell a staff member so that we can address the situation to keep school safe.”

Students can reach out by telling a PN staff member or anonymously by using OK2Say


After Oxford

After doing a lot of research, Nissen created a petition that has been shared with students and parents from PPS. It became popular after the recent Oxford High School shooting, which caused many students to reevaluate the safety of measures such as ALICE drills. ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate, which was introduced as a more comprehensive lockdown drill. “I personally feel like ALICE, it works to an extent. They kind of teach us ‘if’, not ‘when’. If we’re in a classroom, but what if we’re in the halls, or what if we’re in the lunchroom, are we supposed to like duck and run?” said Nissen. “They don’t have that extra layer of protection to have people feel safe. After Oxford happened, so many schools closed around the area because they didn’t feel safe.”

“I think something that’s really messed up is that we didn’tas a community, as a school, at Portage Northernwe didn’t even acknowledge what happened at all,” said Nissen’s friend, senior Katelyn Koss. “It’s a place so close to us. My girlfriend, their school made sure they had the yellow and blue day to acknowledge what was happening and they had an assembly regarding it. And we got nothing…. it just blew over like it never happened.”

Despite the common feeling of being unsafe at school, PN does take many efforts to keep students safe, including locking all doors besides the main door and the Lower Commons entrance. “This allows for us to control access by making all the visitors coming to the front door check in and out at the office,” explained Pierman. “The hall supervisor who sits at the back door is there to make sure people using that entrance are students arriving from off campus classes and not random people wandering in. The hall supervisors and other staff members in the building are also responsible for reporting suspicious activity and checking in with people who do not appear to belong in the building.”

Pierman recently presented information related to ALICE and school safety at the last Portage Northern Parent Compass meeting online. 


Centering Mental Health 

Besides monitoring doors, Nissen and Koss also want to emphasize the importance of mental health and a good school culture to keep the school safe. “Security is a good thing for schools, but it only goes so far. But having that mentality at school, positivity, making everyone feel like they’re welcome there, can do so much,” said Nissen. 

“Until I got exposed to Covid, like a month or two ago, that was the first time I ever talked to the principal,” said Koss. “It seems like a very impersonal experience.” Koss suggested addressing how to cope with mental health throughout school in Health class. “That should be something that should be implemented into courses, and I feel like that would make all the difference… I’m not saying it’ll change the outcome, and prevent school shootings, but it can make things a little better for the whole high school experience,” she said. 

“Even if they won’t talk to their own counselor about it, just knowing that your own school that you go to, [that] you’re supposed to feel safe at, is willing to help you and make you feel more included in school, it just, it helps people,” said Nissen. 


The Best Defense 

Overall, the most important information can be what students observe about their peers. “School safety is the responsibility of everyone here at school, including students,” said Pierman. “Students know all of the details of everything that happens in this school because the people involved are their friends and classmates. The adults only know what they can observe or what students share. If a student hears a classmate say something or sees them post something that causes concern they need to tell us about it so that we can investigate the situation to make sure everyone stays safe.”

Portage Northern is our community: we’re the ones that can help the most and benefit the most from being conscious about safety.