Editor’s note: The student walkouts were not open to media. The media spoke to participants after the event took place.
Promptly at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, about 200 students walked out of Joel Barlow High School and gathered outside the building for 17 minutes.
Along with many other high schools across the nation, Barlow was taking part in what was known as National School Walkout Day. March 14 marked one month after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed.
During the time the students were outside, some read poems and gave speeches. Many held up handmade posters. There was also a moment of silence for the shooting victims.
Students signed a banner that read #ENOUGH that they plan to send to the Florida high school.
Julia Mullin, 16, of Redding, said although students expressed sadness regarding the recent shootings, there was a note of “hope” in the air.
“Despite the event being organized following such a horrible occasion, I think the fact that a significant portion of the student body took part in the walkout was a big first step in the right direction,” Julia said.
“Shaken” was a word used by Rachel Wagner after hearing someone during the walkout say students should “rise up and do something to reform.”
“I’ve never seen myself, a 17-year-old high school senior, as powerful — especially not in government and politics,” said Rachel, of Redding. “When I looked around and saw the hundreds of students literally surrounding me, all huddled together for warmth and comfort, I realized this is what we can do. These small acts can work to show our leaders that we are listening, and we care.”
Barlow’s walkout made Rachel feel part of a much larger historical movement of change, she said.
“I’ve participated in many marches and peaceful protests before for women’s rights, immigration, and religion. Yet never have I had one led by a group of peers,” she said. “This change almost brought a smile to my face as I realized we are budding young adults beginning to enter a world where we will fight to be heard — to create change and support each other.”
Middle school walkouts
Middle school students might be young, but their voices count just as much, said 14-year-old Chloe Schwarz, an eighth-grader at John Read Middle School.
Chloe was one of the coordinators of John Read’s walkout, which — like Barlow — also had about 200 students participating.
The middle school walkout was planned well in advance of the event, with about 10 meetings held and many details discussed at each one, according to Chloe.
“On the Monday before it, we took a survey in the cafeteria, asking who would be interested,” said Lizzie Lee, 13.
As students walked out of the school on the morning of the walkout, the coordinators handed out black ribbons for them to wear to show support for everyone who lost their lives from gun violence.
Many of the students wore their ribbons for the rest of the school day.
Chloe said she felt strongly that students her age should hold a walkout. “When the Sandy Hook shooting happened, we were so young that we didn’t really understand what was going on. Now we are older and now we are speaking our own voice.”
Sofia Araman, 14, agreed with Chloe and said if adults shield young people from the problems going on in the world, “Then we are not going to learn from the mistakes of our older generation and history may repeat itself.”
For 13-year-old Lizzie Lee, he Sandy Hook tragedy “changed everything,” as far was what school life was like for her. “We have lockdown drills four times a year. They last about 15 to 20 minutes,” Lizzie said. “We are told to lock the doors, close the blinds, get down and go out of sight.”
Ending gun violence and her fears associated with this is what Lizzie said led her to want to plan the walkout.
The Florida shootings brought back memories to Chloe of an incident that occurred shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“I remember sitting in the corner of the classroom all scrunched up with 23 kids at Redding Elementary School, one week after the Sandy Hook shooting. We heard there was a man at the Redding train station with an umbrella but it looked like a gun. They put all the schools on lockdown,” she said. “I remember a bunch of girls in my class were bawling. We knew it wasn’t a drill.”
About 250 students participated in Helen Keller Middle School’s walkout. “The majority of our students chose to go outside in what, in my opinion, was a picture-perfect event,” said Principal Susan Kaplan.
Kaplan said the walkout was student-driven, student-led and student-designed. “The focus of it was on compassion and how do we help each other as leaders of the future,” she said. “Watching what they did just confirms to me that our future is in good hands.”
The coordinators of the John Read Middle School walkout plan to form an activist committee, which would be open to all students interested in “making a difference and changing the norm of violence in any shape or form,” said 12-year-old Tessa Higgins.
When the committee members graduate John Read, they plan to continue their efforts at Barlow, Higgins said.
Thirteen-year-old Tallulah Whaley said she thinks the walkout was not just a “moment” but a “movement.”
“It really is a wakeup call,” Tallulah said. “Adults haven’t really done anything. The Columbine shooting happened almost 20 years ago and continues to happen.”