Thousands of students across the United States walked out of their schools on March 14 to honor the dead and raise their voices in the fight to end gun violence.
Students at Rolesville (NC) Middle School were among those who participated in the National School Walkout, leaving school to pay tribute to the 17 students and staff who died in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida, and lending their voices to the push for gun control laws.
After discussions with the administration, the Rolesville Middle School student organizers decided to hold their event at the beginning of the school day instead of the established 10 a.m. national time.
“They gathered at the track and walked for 17 minutes,” says teacher-librarian Angie Morris. In addition to the walk, the student leaders read the names, ages, and grades of each Parkland victim. Students wore MSD colors, carried signs and each participant got a button reading #NeverAgain and #DouglasStrong.
Some parents complained about what they saw as administrative support of the walkouts in Rolesville, according to Morris, but the principal stressed that it was voluntary and worked with the eighth graders coordinating their school’s event to make it least disruptive to the school day.
Around the country there was criticism, debate, and even some threats of violence against protesting students. Some schools created options to replace or add to the walkout, such as assemblies to discuss school safety, gun violence, and being kind to each other. Students in large cities marched to parks and government building for rallies. Thousands in the Washington, DC, area turned their backs on the White House and sat in silence for 17 minutes before marching to the Capitol.
At middle schools and high schools across the country, the #NeverAgain movement started by the survivors at MSD swelled. News reports and social media posts showed kids who were not just taking the opportunity to skip class, as some opponents to the walkout contended, but giving speeches about the issues and learning about activism, politics, gun control, and organizing action.
Photos of educators outside with their students filled social media feeds. Some stood with the students, while others stayed nearby for support and to make sure there was a supervising adult for security reasons. Morris went out into the cold morning with what she estimates to be 600–700 students, most of the kids in attendance at school that day.
The day after the Parkland shooting, Morris went around her library pulling books for a display. She thought students would need information to better understand what was happening. She found titles on gun control and gun violence, and to offer contrasting viewpoints, she took a book from the “Thinking Critically” series that deals with the issue. She pulled titles about the Bill of Rights.
Morris included some novels that address gun violence—including All The Right Stuff and Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers and Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down, among others. She also put out some poetry books.
Then she showed her library assistant what she compiled. When her assistant expressed some misgivings about the idea, Morris hesitated.
“We are a very divided community,” she says.
However, when eighth graders began planning to participate in the National School Walkout, Morris spoke to them about the display. The student organizers thought it was a good idea, and Morris displayed the books out on a table with the students’ sign for the March 14 walkout.
“Kid have definitely been looking at it,” Morris says. “Books have been taken in bits and pieces.”
The most popular choices have been the novels and the books on the Bill of Rights.
While the school walkout is over, many young activists are planning for larger March For Our Lives on March 24. Are you helping students become better informed on the issues through fiction and nonfiction selections? What books would you recommend for future displays and reading lists for this generation of activists? Let us know in the comments section below.