Student walkouts on gun violence: 'We just want everyone to feel safe'

Written by Marie Cusick and Brett Sholtis/WITF News | Mar 15, 2018 5:03 AM

Rachel Mast (L) and Micaela Nieves (R).jpg

Rachel Mast, left, and Micaela Nieves, right, stand outside Lancaster Mennonite High School in Lancaster County. (Marie Cusick/WITF News)

Hundreds of midstate teenagers walked out of classes Wednesday to honor those shot to death at a Florida high school last month, and as a call for action on gun violence.

They were speaking to their own communities, but also to fellow students and to others across the U.S.

"I think it's important for our country to be unified," said Micaela Nieves, a senior at Lancaster Mennonite High School. "Like, no matter what side of the issue you're on I think we need to be able discuss our sides with each other, because if we don't we're just going to be silenced, and that's never going to change anything."

Marcelina Brown, a senior at William Penn Senior High School in York, said she feels safe at school, because her school uses metal detectors and has its own police force. But she was thinking of other places, and said the walk-out went beyond school safety -- it aimed to show solidarity with all families affected by gun violence.

"We're safe in our school, and it's not fair to the other schools that aren't safe like us," she said. "We just want to tell them that they have our support."


William Penn High School senior class president Tajira Wilson cheers at her school's protest one month after the Parkland, Florida mass shooting that killed 17 people. (Brett Sholtis/WITF News)

Brown and more than 500 of her classmates took part in honoring the 17 people who died Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At 10 a.m., students walked out of school to a nearby park, where they chanted, sang and read the names of dead Parkland students.

The Parkland survivors were heard at Lancaster Mennonite, as many students read their poems and quotes.

The walkouts, part of a coordinated effort across the country, were to last 17 minutes in recognition of the students killed in Florida. Organizers at more than 3,000 schools had scheduled walkouts, according to NPR.

What students did when they walked out varied, NPR reported: students at a New York high school sat in silence for 17 minutes, for example; students in Columbus, Ohio released 17 balloons; and some Massachusetts students rallied at the statehouse.

The political message at Lancaster Mennonite was designed to make the entire student body feel welcome, said junior Ashton Clatterbuck, who helped organize the walkout.

"Whether they want to push for guns in schools, and arm teachers, or if they want to ban all guns, I want them to be out here and be supportive of each other and stand up for what they believe in and encourage teens to make the changes they wish to see in the world," Clatterbuck said.

Both groups of students, though, talked about what they see as the need for action to prevent gun violence.

Lancaster Mennonite students criticized the ease with which people in this country can obtain guns, and the lack of action by politicians. Jim Amstutz, a bible teacher at the school, said the students are marking a path toward discussion on a polarizing issue.

"We know we have a diversity of opinions on this issue, especially, but let's to come together to say, 'It's time for a change,'" he said. "And that's what I think the voice of these high school students across the country is giving us as adults."

William Penn's senior class president, Tajira Wilson, said the wave of protests across the nation show that people her age want lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws.

"We just wanted to show that we do believe that there should be more control on the guns," she said. "We want everyone to feel safe coming to school. .... We just want to come to school, get a good education, and do what we need to do to have a successful future."

Editor Scott Blanchard contributed to this report. 

Published in Lancaster, News, York

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