National School Walkout

Social media has been full of posts about the National School Walkout today, and I wanted to share some thoughts from three of my students. First, I respect and support those who chose to participate in the walkout and those who chose to stay in class. Many of my students had valid reasons for participating and valid reasons for not participating. Second, even though there were some political implications on the nationwide front, at my school this was less of a change to make a political stand and more of a chance to pause and honor lost lives. Third, our student body worked with the administration for a safe, peaceful, and respectful walkout; I love that both sides heard and respected each other. I heard students in my first block telling others what the principal had said, and they wanted to do what he asked. Students were very respectful. Fourth, before anyone calls for students to walk up instead of walk out, many of my students do this already; this was not an either-or issue but rather a both-and. So in the order I received these, here are some student comments:

IMG_20180314_101608224_HDRWhen I was 12, I remember coming home, curling up on my couch staring at the TV, not truly understanding the true atrocity of the Newtown Elementary School shooting I was watching unfold. I remember a feeling of having a bubble being burst, a safety net being thrown away. Schools were supposed to be a safe place. I recall how my mom, an elementary school teacher herself, cried as she held my sister and me after her day at work.  My generation has never grown up without mass shootings. We have never known that world. Pulse, Sutherland Springs, Aurora, Vegas, the list is seemingly endless. Last month I remember browsing Twitter when a couple of hashtags started trending instantly about Florida. I read tweets of students my age, about how they were currently hiding in their closets, bathrooms, classrooms. I read what some of those students believed would be their last words. I watched videos of gunshots, saw pictures of people who easily could’ve been me and my peers, read names flashed at basketball games, remembrance ceremonies, town hall meetings. These images are forever burned in my brain, which is why I walked out today.       

         I refuse to be apart of a group who sits idly by while children die in schools that claim to be safe. I refuse to be labeled as an ignorant teenager who doesn’t know the first thing about politics. I walked out today for every life that has been lost due to gun violence in this country, from the inner city of Baltimore to most recently in Alabama. Students have historically been the forefront of revolutions. I believe now that I am part of one through my actions today.                          Lauren Hagert, future University of Minnesota student

IMG_20180314_102952010Instead (of walking out) I chose to pray for the victims along with safety amongst all schools during the moment of silence after the pledge. Also, I made an effort to complete 17 acts of kindness throughout the day. I know that being nice to someone will not prevent something as terrible as a school shooting because the complexity of the issue stems from more than just how their peers treat them, but it was an effort to promote a kinder, more peaceful learning environment. My last reason for not walking out, which might be considered selfish by some, was that if I chose to walk out at exactly 10:00, I was told my name would be sent to the principal and I would be written up for skipping. I’ve never been the type who can be okay with getting in trouble, no matter the reasoning. I thought it was ridiculous, however, that the students who legitimately wanted to participate in an event meant to honor and remember the students that were lost would be punished. 
Emily Hannah, future University of Georgia student

(To my knowledge students who participated were counted tardy to second block, but there were lots of conversations and rumors about what could/would happen).

The tone of that ever-familiar bell rung for all the class to hear, just like any other day. I started out of the room into the hallway, just I would any other day. But I and perhaps one hundred-twenty other students weren’t heading for second block like we normally would. No, this day’s destination was different.
      The lead up to today was one of disorientation and overthinking. Many people were confused as to whether we should walk out at 10:00 sharp or 10:06 when the bell always rings. Some of us were worried we might get suspended or marked tardy. Luckily that didn’t happen to us, only to a few hundred students in states west of us. The whole time, I had a nagging fear I might be one of some measly gang of ten or twenty people, looking like loners and oddballs outside the school. Even the main student organizer of the event shared my concern. Luckily that didn’t happen.
        Over one hundred teenagers of Northgate High School agreed to set aside a few minutes of their day to come together and mourn the loss of seventeen students and teachers in a high school just a state away from us. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High could’ve been Northgate. This fact did not escape the throng of kids silently gathered on their football field. As the names and ages of each person killed in last month’s shooting were displayed on pieces of paper minute-by-minute, some students winced, visibly taken aback as they were met with names which reflected their ethnicity or gender. The ages of the dead started at 49, then dropped to 37, then to 35. Some seniors stepped back or covered their mouths when age 18 appeared. The same with 17. And 16. And 15. At the end, everyone was noticeably disturbed by the display of seven 14 year-olds.
        There were kids of all different ages gathered on that football field. All races and income levels were represented. We shared two things: our youth, and our school. I haven’t stepped foot inside a church in a long while, but I could tell you instantly what the atmosphere was: not a funeral, but a somber, silent sermon you didn’t really want to attend but did anyway because something in your soul compelled you to.
I found myself walking away from that melancholy mass feeling strangely contented. I actually heard jokes from the students on the way back to class. This didn’t bother me, but instead cheered me, because it reminded me of what makes our school Northgate. Unlike most other Northgate students, I only have two more months here. I know I must move on, but I’ll always miss this place and keep a piece of it in my soul to strengthen me.
        Peter Bucci, still narrowing college choices

This is the point I would like to make about students and walking out: take time to talk to students about school safety instead of making assumptions about them.  This is a serious concern for many students and they need and deserve to be heard. We are raising students to use their voice, but then shut them down when we don’t like what they are saying or how they may be saying it.
I choose to listen.

For my personal thoughts on school safety, guns, and mental illness, read I Just Want to Teach School.

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