Hundreds of students at three high schools in Flagstaff walked out of class Wednesday to protest gun violence.
At Flagstaff High School, about 200 students filtered onto the football field for a walkout event organized by the student council, the Gay Straight Alliance and the Humanitarian Club.
At Coconino High School, about 200 students attended the beginning of the event to hear the names and descriptions of the victims. The number of students dwindled after the reading of the names and as students started giving speeches about their thoughts on school safety.
At Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy, students arranged 17 chairs on the sidewalk in front of the school, each with a spray of flowers in memory of the Parkland shooting victims. All but a dozen students participated in a silent vigil outside the school, and they were joined by teachers, staff and parents.
Facing a crowd of their peers and some community members, student speakers from Flag High read the names of those who were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a month ago. They then asked for a moment of silence before continuing with other speeches.
Speakers encouraged their peers to take action and to realize the power of their own voices.
“We live in a time where we can make an immense impact on the world around us right here and right now,” said Clyde Ellis, a junior at Flagstaff High School and one of the organizers of the walkout.
“I hear a lot of adults talking about how it’s a dark day when kids have to take matters into their own hands. I say it’s about time,” Ellis said.
“Right now the world is hearing our voices loud and clear. Beyond that they’re realizing the sophistication and clarity we carry in our words.”
Added Ellis: “That’s why we’re in this mess. Lack of action. Lack of debate. We deserve action.”
Ellis referenced the threatening notes that were found around the high school last spring that forced heightened security measures.
“My point is we’re no stranger to this. We shouldn’t have to go through anything like that. We won’t if we fight for change. Never again,” he said.
Other students knelt at long tables to write letters to local and state elected officials and sign a giant poster that will be mailed to Stoneman Douglas.
“We as students should not be coming to school fearing we will lose our lives,” one student wrote.
“I was furious when the shooting happened,” another letter read.
Others waded into the debate over gun control.
“There seems to me a pretty easy solution to end these shootings and it’s gun reform,” said Sam Herring, senior at Flagstaff High School and another organizer of the walkout.
“By far the biggest problem found in these school shootings is how easy it was for all the shooters to acquire and use these weapons.”
The Second Amendment is severely outdated and needs to be changed, he said.
“This is a student-led movement across the nation and it’s up to us to make the change we want to see in the world.”
Around 100 to 120 students stayed to hear the walkout organizers voice their opinions of school safety.
“When 3,000 people died on 911 there was an amazing social change,” said Areya Kugler, a student at CHS. “More people than that die every day from guns, but there has been no change. We are the next generation, we do not want this.”
“We are all victims of the school shootings,” said Dawson Franz, another CHS student. “It’s too easy to do nothing. Action must be taken to end this.”
“We’re all scared that one day we will have to walk through bloody hallways past the bodies of people we know,” said Casey Auberle, a CHS student. “No action has been taken and we’ve had enough.”
Arming teachers and installing metal detectors is only going to create more problems, said Mya Trent, a CHS student. Metal detectors and armed teachers give an air of expected violence, she said. Studies show where violence is expected, violence happens. Besides, schools don’t have the money to purchase classroom supplies, let alone metal detectors.
“We need to focus on the real problem,” Trent said. “I won’t say what that is because we all know what it is. We have to do what is right. We need to hug our friends and family close.”
“It doesn’t make sense that someone who can’t get on a plane can buy a gun,” said CHS student Sean Malone. “Enough of the videos of kids cowering in corners. Enough of saying now is not the time to talk about this. Enough of not listening to us because we’re kids and we should shut-up and sit down. Enough with the silence. We’re students. We’re united and we will be heard.”
CONCERNED OVER CONFRONTATION
A few of the students after the CHS event said they were concerned that something might happen at the high school today. Sarah Norris, one of the organizers of the event, said she had heard comments from classmates in the hall or posts on social media about how some students were upset the group might be advocating for taking guns away from people. Some classmates came to school with “Don’t Tread on Me” flags in the back windows of their cars
Trent said her parents didn’t want her or her siblings to come to school today. They were also worried about her speaking at the walkout. They thought something might happen, she said.
CHS student Chrystina Ciudad said she was so concerned that she had her mom waiting in her car in the parking lot of the school with the engine running.
But that wasn’t what the walkout was about -- taking away guns, Trent said.
“We understand that that won’t happen,” she said. “But there has to be some sort of compromise. I think we can reach that if we can get rid of the political aspects of (gun ownership and rights.)”
At FALA, the doors to portable classroom buildings swung open at exactly 10 a.m. and floods of children poured out under a cloud-studded sky.
More than 90 percent of the students in the school from grades 7 through 12 took part in the event. The students first gathered in the school parking lot, where English teacher Allison Gruber read a statement from the school administration to the students, both praising them for their action and recognizing the rights of those students who did not wish to participate.
The student body then walked quietly holding signs out to the back wall of the school facing the highway. More than 350 students stood three deep in lines behind the empty chairs and spent the 20 minutes of the walkout standing in silence with signs calling for action in ending a continuous series of school shootings.
Talking about the installation of the seventeen chairs, FALA Dean of Academy Deidre Crawley said, “The students did this installation all on their own without us knowing anything about it. It’s pretty powerful. We think that this is something that is a part of who they are.”
Added Crawley: “The walkout has been completely organic and led by the students. Our only involvement has been to provide support staff to students who wanted to participate and also to the students who did not want to participate.”
A DOZEN STAY INSIDE
The student participation in the walkout was so large that only one of the two classrooms put aside for students not wanting to participate were used. In that classroom close to a dozen students sat on desks and talked in small groups, read or talked on their phones.
Many of the 12 didn’t want to talk about their reasons for not participating.
Connor Hobbs, 13, wearing a grey panda hoodie, said that she lives in a home with guns and said that she has shot a semiautomatic rifle before and an assault rifle and enjoyed it.
“I do believe that we shouldn’t have gun control laws and I believe that it’s not a gun problem it’s a mental problem. I believe that it’s like history repeating ourselves if we take away guns like Prohibition, where crime got worse than it was actually meant to be.”
Eli Sweet, 14, reflected on his classmates’ actions.
“I’m actually fine with them doing this walkout but personally I don’t want to do it because my family, we own three guns. My family hunts as well and I feel safe where I am.”
Shain Newell, 13, also had an opposing perspective to those walking out.
“I don’t personally support the walkout because if they ban guns more people are going to die anyway. I have guns and have grown up with guns and have shot guns. It’s not a gun problem. People are always saying it’s all a gun problem, but it’s not, it’s a mental problem. It’s a lot of different things. If they ban guns it would spur a lot of problems. A lot of people would take action. Criminals are going to get guns either way if they are banned or not.