Students walk out and talk it out, too

Middle school-aged students at Charlotte Central School took part in a scheduled walkout of their own on Friday, observing a moment of silence to remember those who died and to talk about school safety. Photo by Harry Evans

Much like the national movement in the background, the scheduled walkouts that took place at local schools as part of National Walkout Day were student-driven.

A snow day last Wednesday meant that students in the Champlain Valley School District couldn’t easily participate in the national March 14 walkout, but Champlain Valley Union High School, Charlotte Central School and Shelburne Community School participated on Friday and Hinesburg Community School students held a walkout on Monday.

The school district initially encouraged middle school-aged students to participate in a “Talk it Out” forum within their schools instead of staging a walkout, an idea suggested by Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe.

Students, however, had other ideas.

“Walking out was a non-negotiable for students who were passionate about it,” SCS co-principal Scott Sivo said. The job for the adults then was to provide what he called “appropriate guidance” for middle-school students to ensure that they felt comfortable whether they opted to walk out or to continue with their regularly scheduled classes. Conversations about the need for safety in schools and the importance of having respectful dialogue were also part of the school day.

Principals from the four schools in the school district met before the walkout to discuss how to best support students on the day of the walkout. Co-principal Jeff O’Hara from Hinesburg Community School said that from an educator’s perspective, “We didn’t want it to be about gun control. We wanted it to be about safety and school safety, and we’ve been pushing the idea that the best defense might be creating a caring and compassionate environment.”

It was a moving day for both students and the adults charged with their care during the school week.

“There were a lot of tears talking about how proud we were of the students,” O’Hara said, “and then we really talked about how important student voices are.”

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