Local students honor victims of Florida shooting
CHESTERTOWN — As students in Parkland, Fla. were reentering their high school for the first time two weeks after a deadly mass shooting, students here honored the victims with a “Walk-Out for Unity.” Organized by administrators, students and staff at Kent County Middle School and Kent County High School who chose to participate in the walk-out stood outside for 17 minutes starting at 8:40 a.m. to pay their respects for the 17 students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed Feb. 14. For the Kent County High School students who gathered in Trojan Stadium for 17 minutes of silence in a “WalkOut for Unity,” the act was more of a remembrance than a protest. “We are doing it to remember the students that didn’t make it out of the school,” said 11th-grader Mary Cate Parent. Fellow 11th-grader Sailor Bottomley said the idea to hold a walk-out started through social media. “We saw on social media other schools did it. Students were posting stuff to get everyone involved. We all felt very strongly about it,” Bot- tomley said. She said that on Feb. 26 some KCHS students wrote letters to support students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in advance of their return to classes Feb. 28. Bottomley said the administration at Kent County High School was notified that the students wanted to hold a walk-out. She said the staff supported the idea, and a letter went out to parents describing what the walk-out would entail. Kent County Middle School Principal Mary Helen Spiri sent a notice home announcing the planned event at her school. On the morning of Feb. 28, Spiri reminded students in her morning announcement that day’s walk-out represented “our commitment to grow stronger as a community.” Spiri said participation was a personal decision for students and staff. Those choosing not to be a part of the walk-out were asked to go to the cafeteria to engage in other “unity activities.” “I thought it was good that we could respect them and show that we care for everyone that has died in the shooting. And we’re going over things here so we can protect our lives,” seventh-grader Will Maier said. Maier said there could be more done with background checks on would-be gun purchasers to improve safety. “But I don’t think guns should be banned or anything,” he said.
Sixth-grader Ryan Myers, who also participated in the walk-out, agreed, saying he and his family are big hunters. “I don’t think you should fight violence with violence,” said seventh-grader Liberty Sampson. Maier and eighth-grader Kiazia Kilson spoke about how time had been spent that week in school on procedures about what to do if a shooting were attempted. Kilson said she does not feel completely safe at the school with the fear of potential shooting. She said she does not think there is a “high chance” of it happening, though. Kilson said some of her friends were concerned about their safety outside the school during the walk-out. Police were on campus for the duration. Myers said he felt more comfortable with the walk-out having police on campus. “I feel like today the community was united,” Sampson said. There were 39 students at Kent County Middle School who reportedly chose not to participate. At Kent County High School, the number was about 100. “Some of the students do not support it,” Bottomley said of her fellow high schoolers. “Some of them do not want to support it because hunters think they are trying to get rid of their guns. But that’s not really what we are doing.” At Kent County Middle School, the students who did not participate came together and listed “17 ways to show we are a school of unity.” They involved cooperation, respect, hard work, responsibility and self-esteem. Kent County High School Principal Nick Keckley praised students for their passion and activism. In the wake of the Florida shooting, students in Florida and beyond have taken national leaders to task over what they see as a failure on gun control. “We know what’s going on nationally, which I think is phenomenal,” Keckley said. “We wanted to honor the movement of protesting and provide a safe place for the students to be able to do that. And also to stand with them.” Keckley said he did not want to force any students to participate, which is why students who wished to could stay in the auditorium of the high school. “I think as a nation we have a real frank discussion on how to keep our kids safe,” Keckley said. “Every day coming to school, it has to be in the back of your mind.” Keckley said the walk-out was entirely student-led and that he could not be more proud of the students. The normal school day resumed quickly at Kent County Middle School, with students going back to classes after the walk-out. Basketballs could be heard bouncing in the gym and music was coming from the band room.
Special education teacher Sydney Billings, left, and sixth-grade English language arts teacher Brooke Mulford, center, hold hands with students during a 17-minute “Walk-Out for Unity” Feb. 28 honoring the 17 students and teachers killed in a Florida...
Kent County High School students and staff bow their heads during a “Walk-Out for Unity” Wednesday, Feb. 28. The students honored the 17 people killed in a Florida school shooting with 17 minutes of silence.