Taking a stand

Students in Marquette County, nation, walk out of schools to address safety concerns

Students from Aspen Ridge Middle School and Westwood High School participate in a walk for safety at 10 a.m. Wednesday, braving the bitter cold winds to stand together to show their support for measures toward safer schools. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Pupils in Marquette County joined thousands of students across the nation by walking out of schools at 10 a.m. Wednesday — the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — to demonstrate their concern for gun safety.

More than 100 Marquette Senior High School students braved the cold and walked out for 17 minutes on Wednesday morning, joining countless others in the nation. Community supporters of the movement and some parents were also present to show their solidarity with the students who braved the cold to make a statement on school safety.

The 17-minute walkout at MSHS and schools across the nation was in honor of the 17 young lives taken in the Parkland shooting.

In addition to MSHS students, over 100 students in grades 5-12 from Aspen Ridge Middle School and Westwood High School also walked out on Wednesday morning.

However, they had their own, unique take on the event, as students had worked together with school administration to arrange the walk and show their support for school safety.

“We’re approaching it a little differently, we are having a walk for school safety. We want to make it very clear that we’re not protesting anything, we’re not supporting any legislation or politicians, or speaking out against any legislation or politicians. What we want to do is, we want our kids to think about what makes our school safe and happy and healthy,” said Bryan DeAugustine, superintendent of NICE Community Schools.

Students, staff, administration as well as law enforcement and firefighters teamed up to show they were interested in school safety, with police, firefighters and school staff escorting the students around the perimeter of the Westwood High School and Aspen Ridge Middle School campuses in Ishpeming Township to ensure a safe and orderly walk.

“Ishpeming Township Police Department, Marquette County Sheriff’s Office and Ishpeming Township volunteer firefighters will be here to walk with our students and interact with them,” DeAugustine said. “Our public safety officers and our firefighters really set a good example of just selfless service to their communities and we think that that’s a good example for our kids … The answer to this lies through teamwork.”

A large group of students and staff braved the cold weather to show their support for school safety. Students who opted to participate in the voluntary walk said they enjoyed the experience.

They were happy to stand with peers across the nation in supporting dialogue about school safety.

“I think it was really nice, because it makes me more safe going to school (knowing) that we’re actually showing that we’re active in something like this … I liked it,” said Lily DeLongchamp, a sophomore at Westwood High School.

DeLongchamp and Abigail Leach, a fellow sophomore at Westwood, said they enjoyed showing that even smaller schools can participate in nationwide causes and that they felt good participating in the event, showing their support to students who were thousands of miles away. The two also said they definitely plan to register to vote when they reach voting age.

While some of the participants are still years away from being able to vote, DeAugustine believes the students can always make a difference by treating each other with compassion.

“We want to make sure that they know that the answer to our nation’s problems moving forward is to treat each other with kindness and respect and to listen to each other, because I think a lot of the older generations have forgotten that, my generation included,” he said. “I think we can make some good headway just having our kids realize that views are diverse and then, by including each other into a good healthy school community, that’s how you really make a difference in your own piece of the world.”

DeAugustine said that because of the importance of this matter, NICE has been making an ongoing effort to make sure all students feel included, comfortable and safe in the school environment, noting that human interaction is “the heart of what we do at school.”

“We’ve really been trying to make an extra effort, and we will continue to do this, to make sure that kids are incorporated into our school family so we don’t have kids who feel alienated or ostracized or humiliated in any way. We really think that that’s how we can make a difference, is making sure that our kids have friends and that they interact with each other in just, loving ways and not ways that make people feel excluded,” he said.

Beyond Marquette County, tens of thousands of students walked out of schools across the nation — some students had the full support of their schools’ administrations, while others walked out in defiance of school administration — but many shared a common sentiment in regards to gun violence: “Enough is enough.”

According to The Associated Press, one historian has called the wave of protests the “largest of its kind in American history,” as students demanded action from leaders on matters of gun violence and school safety.

Many students noted that “thoughts and prayers” in response to shootings should be exchanged for “policy and change” — showing their frustration with the lack of policy action from lawmakers in regard to the school shootings.

“We’re sick of it,” said Maxwell Nardi, a senior at Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico, Virginia, just outside Richmond told the Associated Press. “We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re not going to stop until Congress finally makes resolute changes.”