(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Arlington high school students walked out of class Wednesday at about noon, joining nationwide protesters responding to a recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wakefield High School students made their way to the athletic stadium for a rally in favor of stricter gun control laws during a 30 minute class walkout. Administrators agreed to consider the walkout an excused absence, according to several Wakefield students.
Students spoke to the crowd with a public address system, calling themselves “moving targets” and shouting that gun violence won’t be resolved until everyone helps them “rise together and create that change.”
Hannah Jones, a 17-year-old junior at Wakefield and an Arlington Young Democrats member, referenced tweets from an account called National School Walkout as her and her peers’ inspiration for the walkout.
Another student, 16-year-old sophomore Natasa Volk, only recently has become involved in politics.
“I think my mom wanted me to swivel in my own ideas and figure out what my values are,” said Volk. “But definitely this year I have engaged a lot more in political conversations, whether its with teachers or with my mother and other students.”
“I guess I started to care, which is kind of disappointing that I didn’t care as much.”
Volk and other students drew protest posters in their morning classes, with slogans like “317 Last Year — How Many This Year?” The walkout crowd was a few hundred teenagers and adults, a portion of the school’s 2016 enrollment rate of around 2,000 students.
Student protests are being staged as widespread as Chicago and Florida in response to the Parkland shooting, but Volk says that it wasn’t just the most recent shooting that inspired action, but that she learned last year that mass shootings happen much more frequently than one might see reported in the national media.
Some students were pessimistic about the protest, reportedly believing that it would just be an excuse for the apathetic to skip class. But, Jones believes, even those students will benefit from the walkout.
“Even if that’s their motive, being around this many people and to see this many people caring” about gun control legislation, said Jones. “I feel that if the news that they’re hearing hasn’t affected them, then this will get them to change their minds and get them to be a bit more directly involved.”
Reporters from ARLnow and WJLA (ABC 7) were not permitted to follow students to the rally at Wakefield High School.
Students, parents, and administrators alike took to Twitter in support of the march — including Virginia’s 2018 teacher of the year, Michelle Cottrell-Williams.
Further protests have been called for by student and adult activists nationwide, and a nationwide “March For Our Lives” protest has been scheduled for March 24.
Tweets from the Wakefield walkout, along with emails sent to H-B Woodlawn and Yorktown parents, after the jump.
From H-B Woodlawn Principal Casey Robinson:
Dear H-B Woodlawn Parent or Guardian:
Today at noon many H-B Woodlawn students participated in a student walkout to protest gun violence following the recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This walkout occurred during lunch; students congregated in the front circle for about 20 minutes. These students were supervised by school staff and the School Resource Officer. It was a peaceful and safe gathering. During this student initiated protest some students suggested that the group should walk to the White House. We told students that they must have parent permission and sign out in the office since this was not a school-sponsored activity, and school staff would not be with them.
Most students walked a short distance and then returned to school. Other students participated in the longer protest. We were not aware of plans for this protest, but we know that other walkouts and protests are being planned for March and April. We will continue to support students by providing them a safe space to exercise their constitutional rights, while also respecting the right of all students to continue with their education during these activities.
From Yorktown Principal Bridget Loft.
Dear Yorktown Parent or Guardian,
Today at noon many Yorktown students engaged in a student walkout to raise awareness of gun violence following the recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. During this walkout, many students left their fifth period classes or lunch to congregate primarily in the amphitheater at the front the building for approximately 20 minutes. These students were supervised by school staff and all gathered peacefully, respectfully, and safely before returning to class. Students who were out of class during this time and returned to class with their classmates will be marked as ‘excused absent’.
Like all of us, many students at Yorktown have been trying to make sense of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas last week and have been concerned about their safety in our school. As a school staff, we are committed to ensuring that our students know that their safety is our top priority and to giving them a space to talk about and process the events of last week.
Today’s walkout at Yorktown was planned and organized by several students here. When we learned that it was being planned, school staff made arrangements for the students to congregate in the amphitheater as they had direct access to it as they left through the front doors and it made it easier for Yorktown staff to provide supervision and to monitor who was entering and exiting the building.
I was exceptionally proud of our students today. Those who participated did so respectfully and peacefully. Those who chose to participate respected the feelings of those who opted not to, and those who opted to not participate supported their classmates who did. With the walkouts and protests that are being planned for March and April, we will continue to support students by providing them a safe space to exercise their constitutional rights.
— Michelle Cottrell-Williams (@WakeHistory) February 21, 2018
— Michelle Cottrell-Williams (@WakeHistory) February 21, 2018
— Ms. Hsu 許 (@wasamshsu) February 21, 2018
Wakefield High School Arlington, VA is walking out for "The Movement" right now, and I am so proud because one of my daughter's is marching now with her friends and fellow students.
— Steve Hellem (@Navista7) February 21, 2018
@studentswalkout Here we go Wakefield!!!! let's be the change!!
— emma ashley heavey (@EmmaKatherine29) February 21, 2018