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WNY students walk out of schools to protest gun violence

 

With snowflakes in their hair and orange ribbons on their overcoats, the students at Leonardo da Vinci High School marched around their campus chanting “No more!”

In the auditorium of Cheektowaga Central High School, students sat in silence.

Just two students walked out of Lewiston-Porter High School, while many others gathered inside the school for a remembrance ceremony.

At Niagara Falls High School, about 35 students paused for a moment of silence outside their school while most other students organized indoor event.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of students across Western New York walked out of their schools at 10 a.m. Wednesday for 17 minutes – one minute for each of the 17 students and staff killed a month ago today at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Many others participated in school-sanctioned observances in honor of the victims inside their schools.

The Florida students who survived the shooting have galvanized young people across the country with their calls for stricter gun control and inspired Wednesday’s day of action across the country. Students at more than 3,000 schools across the nation announced ahead of time that they would be taking part in the walkout.

As third period began at 10 a.m. in daVinci High, a Buffalo public school located inside the D’Youville College campus, nearly all of the 380 students poured out of their classes wearing their coats and streamed out of the building.

Principal Gregory Lodinsky said a group of students came to him last week and said they wanted to participate in the nationwide walkout and wanted to work with the school’s administration to make it happen.

They settled on the idea of a “peace march” around the block as well as lessons in social studies classes about civic engagement and activism.

“The protest was student-led but administration supported their interest and provided them with the means to express themselves,” said Lodinsky, who bought up all the orange ribbon he could find at Walmart Tuesday night to hand out to students who wanted to participate.

A small number of students didn’t want to participate and they stayed in a room with a teacher, Lodinsky said.

Christina Divincenzo, Alexus Garcia and Joshuwa Kalinowski carried a sign they made that read: “Parkland deserves better.” “We need to protect ourselves,” Christina said. “Not a gun ban. More control and legislation.”

Christinia said in New York State, which has some the nation’s toughest control laws, she feels safe. “I know other people around the country don’t,“ she said.

Eleanor Fish, 15, holding a sign that read #Never Again, a rallying cry of the Florida shooting survivors, led chants during the march.

She is inspired by the student activists in Florida, she said. “I feel so connected to the people that were wounded and shot. I feel their pain. I want it to change,” she said.

Madeline Rivera, 16, who wrote emails to local media to publicize her school’s walkout said she found event “powerful” and was grateful to her school’s administration for letting them do it.

“We are the next voters. They can listen to our peaceful protest now or they are going to have to in three years,” she said.

At Cheektowaga Central, 50 to 75 students made their way to the auditorium as Principal Scott Zipp came on the public address system and read the names of the students and staff members who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a month ago.

Cheektowaga school leaders wanted students to remain inside for safety reasons. Assistant Principal Michael Fatta was one of the administrators at the door, strongly suggesting the students do not leave the building. If they did, there would be consequences, he told them. No one walked out the front door.

Around the corner in the auditorium, it was silent, and when it wasn't, students "shushed" one another.

When he finished reading the names, Zipp suggested those still in their classrooms have discussions. The school suggested students endorse Rachel's Challenge #whatsyour17, by coming up with 17 ways to make a difference, such as acts of kindness.

"We realize one school doing this isn't going to change the world, or change the country, but it's about the principle," said senior Jack Kreuzer, who spoke to Zipp last week about the student walkout.

He was told the school could not support students leaving the school. Then the administrators suggested an alternative: What about an assembly in the auditorium?

"If they want to give us a space in the auditorium to do this, I'm happy to work with them," Kreuzer said. "That’s what we should be showing our political leaders: We have to work with each other."

Some students had thoughts on the way suspects in mass shootings are seen.

Jalai Williams, another senior, and several other students said if the gunman was black, he would be considered a gang member, if he was Muslim, he would be called a terrorist, and if he was white, he would be considered mentally ill.

"I feel everyone should be equally punished," she said.

Superintendent Mary Morris said the Parkland shooting affected students more than other school shootings because they really considered if it could happen in their school, and if they are safe at Cheektowaga Central. More parents called to ask the same thing, she said.

About 500 students signed up for a ceremony in the Niagara Falls High School Performing Arts Center, which included Mayor Paul A. Dyster, Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto and School Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie.

But senior Olivia Adams, the student leader who came up with the idea of participating in the national walkout, spent most of the period of silence outside in the snow and cold with 35 to 40 fellow students who thought being outdoors made more of a statement.

"We believe this process isn't something that can be done in an auditorium," Adams said. "The weather's not so below freezing that we're going to get frostbite. It's not so snowy that by the time we get inside, everybody's going to be soaked. This weather is Niagara Falls weather, so we can deal with it. I think that it makes much more of an impact that we're standing out here in the cold, showing our support for the victims."

After a couple of administrators remonstrated with her, Adams went in for the start of the indoor ceremony before returning outside. She led her group of independent protesters inside and onto the auditorium stage for the end of the official event.

As many students at Lewiston-Porter High School gathered in the auditorium for an observance in honor of the victims of the Parkland shooting, two 10th graders walked out of the school. "It's a national thing. It's not just something to go into an auditorium to talk about. Something needs to happen. A school was supposed to be a safe place and people were killed. That's awful.  So we came out here and stood out here and we are going to freeze because it's 17 minutes where people lost their lives," said Madison Davis.

Her friend Jenna Sheehan said: “We walked out for a reason.”

 

Local schools see 'teachable moment' in national gun violence walkout

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