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Students organizing #Enough school walkouts throughout South Jersey

Thousands of South Jersey students will leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. Wednesday to participate in memorial and protest events as part of a national movement started after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The walkout commemorates one month since the shooting that took the lives of 17 people. The events will not only serve as a memorial for those who died Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but will double as a protest against gun violence.

The #Enough National School Walkout, organized under the umbrella of the Women’s March, was created by a collective of teenage students across the country called Youth Empower. Wednesday’s is the first of several national events, including a March 24 March for Our Lives created by the Parkland survivors and an April 20 National School Walkout Day created by a Connecticut student.

Mary Loteck, 15, of Upper Township, is organizing a protest at Ocean City High School during which students will march out onto the football field for a 45-minute demonstration.

“To be a student in America right now, it’s so empowering to see the students rose up in Florida,” Loteck said. “It’s really important that students my age are paying attention to what’s happening because we’re the next senators and presidents and politicians.”

Egg Harbor Township High School, Atlantic City High School, Pleasantville High School, Atlantic County Institute of Technology, Mainland Regional High School and Middle Township High School have also committed to holding a walkout event Wednesday. Some of them are organized by the students, while others are an effort by both staff and students.

Hammonton, Cedar Creek and Vineland high schools have planned for students to demonstrate in the hallways. Vineland has warned students they may face disciplinary action if they leave the building.

“Students that make the choice to leave the building will be considered defiant and disciplined according to the district’s code of conduct,” reads an email from district.

Last month, nearly 1,000 students at Southern Regional High School and 1,000 more at the district middle school participated in a student-organized walkout to protest gun violence and memorialize the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

For more information on the walkouts and march, see womens, national and


‘This budget meets the standards by which we will build a stronger and fairer New Jersey that works for all of our residents,’ Gov. Phil Murphy says Tuesday. ‘It will responsibly invest in our future to drive our economic growth and resurgence. It will ensure we meet our obligations fairly and honestly.’ The first-term Democratic governor’s plan for 2019 differs sharply from those of the previous eight years of Republican administration.

ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer/  

Students at Southern Regional High School walked out about noon Feb 21 to protest school violence and stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors of the mass shooting a week earlier in Parkland, Florida.

Eric Liebowitz / abc  

Mara Justine, 16, of Galloway Township, auditions for ‘American Idol.’ Her successful audition was broadcast Monday.

WATCH: Galloway teen's American Idol audition

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Mara Justine called all her friends and family into the living room of her township home Monday night to pray before “American Idol” was set to start.

“Thank you for this gift, and I hope I can keep using it to connect with people and inspire people,” Justine said, holding hands with her friends and family.

She thanked God for everyone in the room, who have been supporting her along the way.

Justine, a 16-year-old Absegami High School sophomore, was handed the golden ticket by “Idol” judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, who gave her a standing ovation after her audition. In the coming weeks, she will go on to compete against other singers in Hollywood.

GALLERY: Galloway's Mara Justine on 'American Idol'

Justine has watched the singing competition ever since she was a little girl.

Monday night was no different, except this time, she was surrounded by her parents and friends, waiting to watch her own audition play on the screen.

“Thinking of her, how little she was, always singing and dancing,” said her father, Bill Platt. “Seeing her on the show she watched when she was young.”

Platt watched from an easy chair while about a dozen teens and Justine’s siblings crowded on the couches and the floor in front of the television, waiting for the show to start.

“This is her way to connect,” he said. “I think her singing brings a lot of people together because she sings with her heart.”

Her mother, Linda Platt, sat at the kitchen table before the show and spoke about how much her daughter’s voice has grown.

“From the time she could talk, she was singing,” she said. “Her range is incredible. She’s learning how to control everything.”

Competing with her voice is nothing new for the teen, who won “Sea Isle’s Got Talent” singing Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” when she was 8, competed on “Maury’s Most Talented Kids” when she was 10 and was a finalist on “America’s Got Talent” when she was 12.

Bill Platt called Justine organized, grounded and kind-hearted, and said she wants to use her platform to help others.

“I think she really wants to inspire people and help people,” he said.

Justine is the fourth of five children, and growing up in a large household gave her a sense of support and confident maturity not seen too often in your average teen.

Her older brother, Billy Platt, 17, said her accomplishments make him proud.

“Honestly, I don’t think there are family members in the world as proud as I am right now,” he said. “As you see her grow, you see her love and passion for it.”

Victoria Williams, 17, has been friends with Justine for several years, since they were in dance classes together. They are both in the high school’s Drama Club and get the chance to share a stage.

“Working with her on stage is an incredible thing,” Williams said. “I know she’s going to go far.”

Williams called Justine an old soul, positive and down to earth.

“When you talk to her, you feel a certain warmth,” she said. “I’m so glad to have her as a friend.”

Her family, who accompanied her when she auditioned for the show in October in New York City, already knew Justine had made it to Hollywood, but their eyes were still glued to the screen as if they were finally getting let in on the secret they’ve been holding for months.

As the episode opened, to the surprise of everyone gathered, Justine’s was the first audition featured. They laughed with her as she was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest, then the room fell silent as they watched her sing.

Justine sang Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” and the judges gave her a standing ovation before unanimously deciding she would get the golden ticket.

Justine cried, hugging her friends and family, reliving that moment all over again.

“I feel like I’ve done a lot,” she said, reflecting on how far she’s come. “But I feel like I’m just beginning and ‘American Idol’ is a beautiful place to start.”

ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer  

Mara Justine, left, tearfully celebrates Monday with family and friends as they watch the ‘American Idol’ judges send her to Hollywood.