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'We do have a voice'

Krystle Wagner and Matt DeYoung • Mar 15, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Local students joined in unity with students across the country Wednesday by walking out of school.

At 10 a.m., students walked out of their classes and gathered for 17 minutes in peer-led activities during the National School Walkout.

The walkout coincided with the one-month anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were killed.

Here’s how local students participated in the National School Walkout:

Grand Haven High School

More than 150 GHHS students stood in near silence just outside the entrance of the school. 

Another several hundred Buccaneers streamed down the hallways and into the Fieldhouse, where they held a moment of silence for the victims of school shootings over the years.

Students from both factions had a different take on what the walkout meant to them.

“I thought that the school turning into a different thing, going into the gym, was them trying to control the situation,” said senior Atalie Bouwman. “I liked the idea of having it student-led. We’re the ones affected. … When the school takes control of the situation, they turn it into something different. They turned it into an anti-bullying thing, which I agree is an issue, but that’s not the issue at hand. We want to give a moment of silence to the victims and to bring attention to gun control.”

Inside the gym, four students — Lexi Tater, Katie Pease, Jackson Schulte and Faith Stevens — organized a Walk In for Change, where students had a chance to pay their respects to the kids who have lost their lives in school shootings.

Before 10 a.m., students participated in a student-driven school improvement lesson that looked at what unity around school safety means at GHHS. The presentation focused on keeping an eye on building security, thinking about what they post on social media, and treating others with kindness and respect. The student-led group also challenged their classmates to give out 17 compliments throughout the day.

Seventeen large red and pink hearts were taped up in the Fieldhouse to represent those killed at the Florida high school on Feb. 14, and 283 smaller hearts were added in the school’s hallways to represent the 283 students who have died in school shootings since Columbine (Colorado) in 1999.

Schulte said he was impressed with the number of students who attended the walk-in, especially given the pushback he’s heard from fellow students as well as parents.

“After hearing a lot of the criticism we’ve gotten, I expected not that many people to show up,” he said. “People are saying it’s not enough. People are saying it’s too political. People are saying the school shouldn’t be allowing it. We expect the national walkout, that the push from the youth, will push the government to face the facts that something needs to change or else this will keep continuing.”

Schulte said the walk-in was more meaningful than the walkout.

Rumors swirled around the school that anyone who walked out would be punished, but Grand Haven Superintendent Andy Ingall said that’s not the case.

“We told all the kids — as long as they complied with our general safety instructions, didn’t leave the campus and didn’t create major disturbances or do anything out of the ordinary — we had no intent to consequence or punish,” he said. “Our kids who went outside stood there silently as they honored the 17 minutes the students from Parkland requested.”

While the students stood outside the building, several Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars sat parked nearby. Deputy Ryan DeVries, the school’s liaison officer, said the increased presence was to assure the students’ safety.

“Of course, safety for students is our first priority,” DeVries said. “We want kids to be able to have their voice. If they want to get involved, we want to be here to help them, to be a resource.”

The large number of students leaving the building is always cause for concern, DeVries said.

“That’s why we had the extra cars outside, because that’s an abnormal thing during the school day, having that many kids outside at one point,” he said. “So we brought a few extra people in to have a presence and patrol the area in front of the school.”

Lakeshore Middle School

About 500 Lakeshore Middle School students walked out of class at 10 a.m. Wednesday. They gathered in the school’s cafeteria where they participated in 17 minutes of silence, according to Principal Amanda Sorrelle.

Prior to Wednesday, Sorrelle said no student specifically met with her or expressed an interest to participate in a walkout, but staff had plans in place in the event students wanted to participate in the national event. Sorrelle said she thinks student participation grew after conversations on social media.

When students started leaving their classrooms, Sorrelle said she made an announcement that she understood some were participating to honor Parkland victims, and they could gather in the cafeteria.

While in the cafeteria, the students were quiet and respectful, the principal said.

“I’ve never seen our cafeteria be so quiet,” she said.

When they went back to class, Sorrelle said the students were reminded to think of ways they can make Lakeshore Middle School a safe and inclusive environment.

Sorrelle said her goal is safety, and she understands the kids have opinions about what’s happening in regards to school violence. She believes it’s important for students to be heard.

“I think today was about them making a statement,” Sorrelle said. “I think that some of them weren’t maybe sure what their statement was, but wanted to show solidarity.”

Spring Lake Middle School

About 100 students left their classrooms at Spring Lake Middle School on Wednesday morning. While the majority gathered in silence in the school’s gym, Principal Aaron West said a handful of students and their parents went out to the east side of the school’s property, where they had a “more verbal experience” and some held signs.

For safety reasons, West said they encouraged the kids to meet in the gym for a student-led opportunity.

West said that since the school is located in the Village of Spring Lake and surrounded by mostly school property, there isn’t a place for high visibility. He said law enforcement officials also encouraged an indoor setting, if possible.

West said a group of students approached him prior to Wednesday about participating in a walkout. In order to have participated in the walkout, parents had to sign an “opt-in” permission slip.

With the school’s schedule, West said there was limited disruption to instructional time.

“We’re very proud of our students for handling this opportunity in a very mature and responsible manner,” he said.

Spring Lake High School

About 250 SLHS students silently left their classes and gathered around the school’s flagpole, where they stood in silence for 17 minutes.

By the time junior Mia Davidson walked out of the building, about 20-30 students had already started gathering. Davidson, who organized the event, said she didn’t know what to expect, and it meant a lot to see so many classmates participate.

Davidson, 17, said she wanted Spring Lake’s walkout to be about honoring people whose lives have been lost to school shootings.

Senior Madi Miller said her participation was a statement of peace and love. Whether students participated to honor victims of gun violence or protest guns, the 17-year-old said it was powerful seeing so many of her classmates walk out and stand up for their beliefs.

“People were motivated to take this step,” Miller said.

During the 17 minutes of silence, senior Bry Fillman thought about each of the victims of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Miller said she spent the time praying about love, peace and the impact students can make. She said it was also time to reflect and be thankful they were protected so they could make their stand.

Davidson said she spent the time thinking about gun rights.

Ottawa County Sheriff’s deputies and Spring Lake school district staff were present as the students gathered outside. Principal Mike Gilchrist said they encourage students to be actively engaged citizens and knowledgeable about current events, but the school did not endorse the participation. However, he said they wanted to provide a safe opportunity for anyone who decided to walk out.

In participating in the National School Walkout, Davidson said she hopes kids discovered that their opinions do matter.

“Even though we’re minors, we do have a voice and the faculty at our school will help us use that voice,” she said.

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