At 10 a.m. on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, students at Chatham High School and Chatham Middle School joined students across the country for the “National School Walkout.”
At Chatham High School, students gathered quietly outside to form a circle, join hands, and stand together to promote school safety, acceptance and inclusion, and student empowerment. The gathering lasted 17 minutes, each minute representing one of the lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14.
“For us it was about school safety and prevention of these huge tragedies,” said junior Althea Brennon, who, along with senior Elisheva Malfatto, organized the event. “It was really important for me that I was a part of that and that we could sort of put our drops in the bucket,” she said.
While nationally much of the discussion has revolved around gun control, the organizers of Chatham’s walkout wanted it to be an event where people with differing views on how to keep schools safe could participate.
“I think that it’s a movement for people who care more so than just a movement for preaching one belief over every other belief,” Elisheva said, adding that she was pleased with the turnout, particularly when she saw students there who she hadn’t expected would participate.
“That was important to both of us, that it was a movement that encompassed all ways that you can accomplish the prevention of these tragedies,” Althea said.
Nicolette Schwab, a senior who participated in the walk out, was among those students who chose to speak during the event. She led her peers through a quiet reflection, asking them to think of the victims of the Parkland shooting and to try to imagine what they must have gone through.
“I think that it was assumed it was going to be a very anti-gun, left-wing sort of protest which just wasn’t the case at all,” Nicolette said afterward. “I think it’s so beautiful that we all just came together and held hands outside and just really preached love to one another and just kept saying how thankful we were that everyone came together,” she said, adding that she was proud “we didn’t just sit by and let this tragedy go under the radar again, which so many have this year.”
CHS arranged two locations where students who chose to could express their views in safety and under supervision. Along with the students who went outside, additional students opted to gather in the gym to observe the seventeen minutes there. Students who elected not to participate in the walkout stayed in their classrooms and continued working with their teachers.
After the seventeen minutes ended, the students headed back to class and the school day progressed as usual.
“This was a student-led initiative. Our role as a school was not to advance any particular political cause, but to provide a safe and peaceful environment for students to memorialize the victims of school violence and express their views on school safety,” explained principal John Thorsen. “I would like to commend all our students on the respectful and thoughtful manner in which they conducted themselves today.”
A similar event took place at Chatham Middle School. There, a number of students chose to either walk outside or head to the school’s cafeteria to gather and observe the 17 minutes together.
Great examples of Chatham E2 spirit.