I was one of more than 500 students from Lower Manhattan schools who left our classrooms at 10:00 am on Wednesday morning and assembled in the streets outside to raise our voices in grief and protest, on the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that ended 14 young lives.
At my school, P.S./I.S. 276, in southern Battery Park City, we had an amazing event. More than 100 students, staff, and parents spoke up. We carried signs that took a stand against gun violence and remembered the victims.
We all felt grateful to students from around the country, and especially in Florida, for starting this movement, and to our school administration for supporting us and encouraging us to be leaders.
Our principal, Terri Ruyter, said, “as educators, the staff at the Battery Park City School believe that a major goal of our school is to help our students become engaged and informed citizens. We are so proud of how our students have advocated for themselves to take part in this nationwide event and that they are raising their voices together in informed and respectful ways.”
Mary Valentine, our middle school dean, said, “I support the student walkout because I support students exercising their First Amendment rights. I am excited to have student leaders at I.S. 276 who are engaged, organized, and willing to take a stand.”
As we left the building, we crossed Battery Place to Wagner Park, then walked along the sidewalk to Pier A. Chaperoned by teachers and parent volunteers, we crossed back over to the bike path and then walked up the promenade and back to school. We carried signs in honor of the 17 people killed in Parkland — 14 students and three adults. We returned to school by 10:17 am, which means we devoted one minute to each of the people who were murdered one month ago. As we walked, we chanted “Change does not care about age!”
Students from P.S./I.S. 276 march against gun violence, chanting “Change does not care about age!”
photo: Joy Kilpatrick
And we were not alone. A few blocks away, 200 students at Millennium High School walked out to the pedestrian plaza at Counties Slip, where they released 14 balloons — one for each of the students killed in Parkland. They also read in unison the statement made by Emma Gonzalez, a senior at the Parkland high school where those students died.
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks,” the Millennium students said, repeating Ms. Gonzalez. “Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because… we are going to be the last mass shooting. We are going to change the law.”
A few blocks north of Millennium, hundreds more students at the High School of Economics and Finance and the Leadership and Public Service High School walked into Zuccotti Park, where they met Governor Andrew Cuomo and told him that he — and all of our elected officials — must push harder on gun safety.
Of course, one day of protest is not the end of this process. It is the beginning. On April 20, the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine school massacre, P.S./I.S. 276 will host an all-school “day of learning” about topics related to peace and non-violence. This program will be tailored to different age levels. I hope and expect that schools around the country will continue to shed light on this important issue in their own ways.
The massacre at Columbine took place before I was born. The school shooting at Sandy Hook happened when I was seven. As Wednesday’s protest ended, I wondered: How old will I be before America figures out how to keep gun violence out of schools?