Annie Wright makes National School Walkout its own

Molly Bryant and Jade Cheatham

Allison Fitz

On Wednesday at 10:00 am, Annie Wright Upper and Middle School students joined schools across the country in the National School Walkout, which took place one month after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people. According to the Women’s March Youth Empower group’s website, the walkout exists “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”

The senior administration modified the academic schedule so that no classes ran from 10-10:20. If students did not wish to protest outside, they could either discuss school safety in the Great Hall or attend a prayer service in the Chapel.

Director of Upper School Jake Guadnola randomly assigned faculty members to oversee each of the three options.

The lack of guidelines and structure left the specifics of the walkout open to interpretation. At Annie Wright, the Community Service Leadership (CSL) and Model UN/Global Action activities planned the event for the Upper School. Students participating in the walkout gathered at 9:55 to exit the school together. CSL member Rayna Wolff requested 17 minutes of silence from all participants. “This is not a time to socialize or to be on your phones,” she said in an email sent to the Upper School.

Over 150 students attended the walkout. Two freshmen, Julia Henning and Hannah Altayar, created signs. They read, “How many lives before change” and “Protect people, not guns,” respectively. Participants first stood in a cluster on the brick walkway, then the entire group held hands and expanded into a circle that spanned the front lawn. After the 17 minutes concluded, students voiced their opinions over a megaphone.  Wolff shared her personal opinions on gun violence. “School should be a place of learning, socializing and growing as human beings – not a place to fear for one’s life,” Wolff said. Henning shared an original poem. Then other students were invited to share. Junior Lauren Bickle, freshman Ela Escobar and senior Phoebe Brown stepped forward to speak their minds. Sophomore Model UN/Global Action member Nina Ye concluded the programming.

12 faculty dispersed around the front of the school and on the sidewalks. “My greatest fear on that day was that someone would come by and try to hurt kids,” said Guadnola. He said the adult presence would “if not stop, cause hesitation, on the part of anyone who would try to cause harm or disrupt the protest.” During the protest, passing cars on Tacoma Avenue honked, slowed down or gave a thumbs up. One car did pull over to the side of the road. According to Guadnola, she just wanted to stand in support.

12 students opted instead to participate in a discussion on school safety in the Great Hall, joined by 10 assigned faculty. People talked about feeling safe at school, but not feeling comfortable asking someone who they are if they don’t recognize them. They also felt that most people here have someone to rely in times of need. People acknowledged the school’s tight community and the perceived unlikeliness that people would bring a weapon.

About 20 students attended the prayer service in the Chapel. Sophomore Natalie Doelman organized the inter-faith service in order “to mourn without advocating for gun control,” she said in an email sent to the Upper School. They stood silently in a circle with two faculty members, with participants sharing thoughts and prayers if they desired. Some of their prayers included mourning the lives lost, ending suffering and injustice, being compassionate for other points of view and bringing peace.