Newberg students make walkout about unity
While many, if not most, of the students that participated in the National School Walkout last week were specifically advocating for gun control in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, their peers in the Newberg schools were quite intentional in taking a different approach.
Like their peers at many other schools across the country, hundreds of students from Newberg High School and both district middle schools walked out of class at 10 a.m., held moments of silence in honor of the 17 victims and exercised their First Amendment rights to express their concern about school violence in a more general way.
Rather than focus their energy on specific political action at the state or national level, student leaders opted for a message of unity and kindness in hopes of affecting change where they actually might have a chance of succeeding: in their own schools.
"We didn't want to just walk out and then not have anything really change," senior Kyra Agnew said. "We wanted to create some unity within the school to actually change the school environment."
Agnew and fellow NHS students Capri Wheaton, Lily Green and Jolee Akins met with principal Kyle Laier to brainstorm about the walkout and address the administration's concerns, which were mostly centered on safety and, as an arm of government, not directly endorsing, organizing or denying the political speech of students.
But from the beginning, the student organizers wanted to take a more inclusive and Newberg-focused path, which is why the main component of the NHS event was for students to spend most of the 17 minutes outside of class introducing themselves to people they didn't already know.
"I was really surprised because typically when you do large events like that, there isn't much participation, but I think a few kids showed initiative and then slowly everyone started moving and meeting people," Wheaton said. "I think there was a lot of encouragement for them to do that, so I don't think people were embarrassed and a lot of people actually met new people and found it to be a really good experience."
About 300 to 350 NHS students took part in the walkout, then they were joined after a few minutes by about 100 students from nearby Mountain View Middle School, whom the organizers had invited to join their event.
According to MVMS Principal Terry McElligott, her students gathered at the front of the school, with one student saying a few words before a moment of silence was observed. Then the group just began walking to the high school track.
It was a similar scene at Chehalem Valley Middle School, where seventh grade students Selina Gallardo and Paige Macken organized their own walkout.
Gallardo kicked things off with a short speech and Macken read the names of the victims before holding a moment of silence.
"Everyone always says that young people are the future, but we are not only the future, we are also the present and in many ways we are the best hope to repair a world divided by hatred, fear and violence," Gallardo told the gathered students. "Two years ago we almost had a mass shooting at our own Newberg High School. Fortunately, police put a stop to it before it happened. It is even more important now that we make our voices heard – enough is enough! We must end school violence now!"
The students, who were joined by a handful of fifth-grade students from nearby Antonia Crater Elementary, then walked around the track and introduced themselves to new people.
CVMS Principal Karen Pugsley estimated that 250 students participated and noted they were well organized and not disruptive in leaving and returning to class. She was so impressed by Gallardo and Macken's leadership that she invited them to serve as student representatives on the school site council next school year.
"I was a happy ex-history and ex-government teacher looking at some really great modeling of what nonviolent and peaceful participation in a democracy and what it looks like for kids at the middle level," Pugsley said. "I've never seen that before. I had seen it at the high school, but never at the middle school. They really pulled it off in terms of maturity."
Some students, both at CVMS and NHS, carried pro-gun or anti-gun control posters to the walkouts, perhaps believing the message was more specifically political, like the national events, but the NHS event organizers said it wasn't a problem at all.
"They were out there doing the same thing that we were doing, using their First Amendment rights to say what they wanted to say," Agnew said. "They made their statement and it was just kind all the way around."