“Dodging bullets is not part of the curriculum.”
“It’s a toe tag, not a price tag.”
“It could be us.”
These are the words Homer High School students want their government representatives to hear in the wake of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that left 17 people dead when a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Between 150-160 Homer High students walked out of their school together at noon on Wednesday. They carried signs through the parking lot advocating for safer schools. They laid their bodies down on the football field to form the number 17, to honor the dead, before heading back to class. They staged the demonstration during their lunch period, said Vice Principal Sunny Mall.
“I’d like to commend them on how peaceful it was, how organized it was and how concerned they were for their classmates to get to class on time,” she said.
The school’s policy is that if a student athlete misses more than 10 minutes of class, they are barred from practice that day as well as any game that might be happening later that day. While Mall said it’s not all about athletics, she was glad the walkout organizers took that into consideration. About 70 percent of the school’s students are involved in sports, she said.
Junior Avram Salzmann and seniors Oliver Beck and Joe Ravin organized the walkout and the demonstration. Through word of mouth and social media posts, it came together by Wednesday morning.
“For us, we really wanted to give youth an opportunity to have their voices heard,” Salzmann said. “… It’s easy to feel helpless up here and like there’s nothing we can do, but there are things we can do … to send a message.”
The three students were using a cell phone to film the other students who walked out holding signs and explaining why they chose to do so. They will compile that video and send it to Congressman Don Young, Salzmann said.
Salzmann said he and his classmates are aware of how much exposure the students from Stoneman Douglas High are getting and how they’re spreading their message nationally, and that they had it in mind when they planned their own demonstration.
“I wasn’t expecting that many people at all,” he said of the crowd. “I think it shows a lot of cohesiveness for change in general. I know I’ve seen plenty of faces there that don’t agree with what I think, but they still walked out today because they believe in change.”
Beck said the idea to form the number 17 on the football field was something a lot of students could get behind, even if they didn’t have the same opinions on school safety and gun laws in the United States.
“We wanted to market it from the beginning as, walking out for what you believe, and at the very least, pay respect to the 17 people that died,” he said.
Bruce Rife, a science teacher at the high school, walked out with the students along with several other staff members. He said he found out about the demonstration Wednesday morning through social media and word of mouth.
“I guess my new job title is to take a bullet, and I’m not sure how I want to respond to that,” he said. “So, I just think something has to be done. We can’t maintain the status quo.”
Mall said Principal Douglas Waclawski sent an email to teachers Wednesday morning reminding them to remind their students of the natural consequences of missing class, but said they didn’t plan to stop the students from exercising their rights.
“Overall it was really peaceful,” she said. “Like anything, nothing’s perfect.”
Mall said a few students reported that they felt they were being “bugged” to join the walkout, but said the enthusiasm surrounding the demonstration was a matter of perception.
Shannon McBride-Morin’s daughter, a sophomore, participated in the walkout. McBride-Morin said she found out when she arrived at the school Wednesday to bring her daughter lunch. She walked through the parking lot after the students, taking photos on her cell phone along with other onlookers.
“I’m super proud of them,” she said. “I think it’s awesome that they’re doing a walkout, and I think it’s about time for common sense gun control.
McBride-Morin said she supports the students in their demonstration and in the message they’re spreading about school safety.
“They’re speaking out and they’re learning about civics and democracy and taking action,” she said. “And their voice matters.”
Freshman Samara Rawls said she joined the walkout because she believes there’s a need for more school safety, not only in the United States, but worldwide. She left the field with sophomore Charity Stuart and freshman Angus Isaac.
“I did it because one of my cousin’s friends was in it (the shooting) and so she’s really hit by it,” Stuart said.
“I felt it was right that we honored the people that died,” Isaac said.
The three said they were impressed with the students in their school and how they rallied together.
“I feel really proud that everyone actually got together and came out here for them,” Isaac said.
“I agree,” Rawls said. “I didn’t think that the school was actually capable of it, but they proved me wrong.”
Beck said he and the other organizers felt it was important to make the walkout open to anyone who wants positive change. He also said the students of Homer High School know they’re not alone.
“This is like a national movement, and we’re all out here together like every high school in America,” Beck said. “I know all the Anchorage ones are. … I think it’s good coming from the students because we’re speaking for our own safety as opposed to other people speaking for us.”