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Students walk out in support of school safety reform

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Students wrote their recommendations and their thoughts on school safety on the banner during the walkout.

Students wrote their recommendations and their thoughts on school safety on the banner during the walkout.

Sloan Huebner

Sloan Huebner

Students wrote their recommendations and their thoughts on school safety on the banner during the walkout.

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Throughout history, students have come together to advocate for change. The problem was that no one wanted to listen. Now students are angry and demanding for their voices to be heard. On February 14, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, another mass shooting took place that claimed the lives of 17 people. After this unspeakable tragedy, students from all walks of life came together to protest gun violence through peaceful demonstrations and walkouts. This display of youth leadership seen all across the country also took place at White Station.

Student organizers from around the district came together to plan a walkout that would effectively bring to light the issue of school safety. There were many steps they had to take in order to make this event a reality.  

“Getting the superintendent’s approval was our first step. We met with him because we really wanted to make sure students and teachers wouldn’t be punished, and we really wanted his support,” student organizer Savannah Thompson (9) said.

After meeting with the youth organizers, Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson publicly recognized the student leaders and pledged to work with them to ensure that the walkouts would run smoothly.

“I’m just so proud of these students and so proud of the advocacy they’re showing and the way they’re really showing true leadership,” Hopson said.

The next step was making sure school administration was on board with what the youth organizers wanted. Naturally, administrators wanted to make sure all students were safe during the demonstration.

“Any time we have something that deviates from a normal school day, there are concerns. What can go wrong?” Vice Principal Carrye Holland said. “As administrators, that is, unfortunately, worst-case scenario.”  

Instructional facilitator Ms. Satar also shared her takeaway in working with the student leaders.

“The experience was enlightening,” Satar said. “There is certainly a learning curve when it comes to community organizing, and I think that both teachers and students alike had to confront this challenge head-on.”

During the planning process, different ideas floated around about the objectives of the walkout. According to the student organizers, the goals were to collect and present student recommendations about campus safety to the school board, allow students to voice their opinions and increase school unity.

“The goals for the White Station walkout, I think, have been lost in translation,” Thompson said. “Gun control is such a pressing issue, but we need to work on the violence in White Station first.”

On April 19, all the plans went into effect. At 10 a.m., three student organizers made an announcement asking everyone to be silent for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 lives lost at Parkland. They also read the Walkout Declaration, which highlighted why students should participate in the walkout. Then at 1 p.m., hundreds of students walked out of class.  

During the walkout, student leaders led their fellow peers in chants, and guest speakers shared empowering stories. There was also a large piece of paper where students wrote comments and specific recommendations for change. Teachers and administrators lined the perimeter of the ROTC field to make sure students were safe and that they stayed in the designated area.

“A lot of people feel like this walkout doesn’t do anything,” Kyler Hamilton (11), a student who walked out, said. “At the end of the day, you gotta start somewhere. Being on the right side of history isn’t always popular, and it isn’t always easy.”

While some people viewed the walkout as unproductive, 19 other SCS high schools, in addition to White Station, held similar events that had the same goal: school safety.

The student recommendations from all schools were collected and presented at the April 24th SCS district board meeting. Six students from different schools read these recommendations, and they are eager to see the response of the school board.

Other student organizers coordinated a town hall meeting at White Station on April 28 called “Arm With Change” to discuss school safety and mental health. The event included panels on mental health awareness, education policy change, and gun reform.

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Students walk out in support of school safety reform