On March 14, students across the country walked out of their schools to protest the deadly school shootings that have taken the lives of so many U.S. schoolchildren. Participants promoted increased gun control, school safety measures and mental health services to protect students from further violence.
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Locally, students across Northeast Denver also led walkouts, each unique. Students from East High School and Denver School of the Arts made a brash mark as they left school and marched to the Capitol to protest. But quieter protests at Northfield High School and McAuliffe International School made powerful, moving statements.
Northfield High School
Northfield chose a similar approach—a silent remembrance of each victim through a 17-minute event, with the release of a biodegradable white balloon as each name was read out on a megaphone. The moving event was organized by Northfield students Ellie Clifford, Kate Stewart and Ava Motarjeme, who are passionate about their cause.
Clifford said she realized soon after hearing about walkout plans on news and social media that “it would be a great opportunity for us to do something that would really be heard and really have an impact on how our country views gun control and how students have a voice also.”
“[The walkout] is important to me because people are getting hurt because of guns and because of people that are allowed to have access to guns,” added Stewart. “Guns have become a tool for hunting people, and now the targets are children and people that should not be attacked.”
“The first school shooting should have been the last,” said Motarjeme. “Nothing ever changed in all these years since Columbine…nothing has been done to change laws or anything.”
Northfield social studies teacher Peter Wright, who has taught the history of protest in his freshman U.S. History class, linked the students’ protests to their education. “It’s really cool to see that that type of historical teaching is being borne out around the country…and with our students here,” said Wright.
An increased educational focus on deeply analyzing language is a factor in motivating the student activism, according to Wright. “I think a big focus in all levels of schooling has been asking kids to really analyze rhetoric and look at what it means or not,” said Wright. “I think that they are able to see in some political statements that what is being said isn’t exactly what is being meant. And they don’t buy it.”
Wright feels that the current tenor of national politics also plays a role in the students’ activism. “People in politics, particularly at the highest levels, seem to feel free to speak their minds and kids wonder, ‘Why can’t we do the same?’” he said.
At McAuliffe, eighth graders Izzy Carabetta, Stephanie Danahey and Elliott Guinness organized the protest at the Smiley Campus in Park Hill. Right after the Parkland school shootings in February, the students designed T-shirts that list the names of schools that have experienced shootings and the victims, with a message on the back about taking action (see below/right/left, etc.).
“We wanted to raise awareness on the topic of gun violence,” said Danahey, about their efforts. “I think people know about it when the event happens, but they don’t do anything about it afterwards,” added Carabetta. T-shirt sales have been booming, spiked by local TV news coverage, and all proceeds will benefit the Giffords Law Center because of its focus on law and policy relating to gun control, said Guinness.
For the March 14 event, the three students decided on a message of love and remembrance, honoring the victims with a silent walkout. The McAuliffe students who chose to participate formed a heart as they sat in the athletic fields behind the school. The student organizers read the names of the 17 Parkland victims each minute through the 17-minute walkout.
Despite a field of tweens, the only sounds to be heard were sniffles—from kids, teachers and a few parents—as they reflected on the students’ lives lost.