Seventh grade students organized walkout at Butteville Elementary

Dana Flint
Butteville Elementary School fourth through seventh grade students listened in union to the names of the seventeen people killed in Florida. Each name was followed by a minute of silence. A walkout occurred at schools, plazas, and in streets around the nation on March 14, 2018 to bring attention to gun violence in the schools. Some people want a restriction on guns sold, some, like this Butteville protest, want more attention paid to caring for the mentally ill and those thinking of shooting people.

“If we unite everyone together, we can stop this from happening.” That was the sentiment of five seventh grade girls who spoke about organizing last Wednesday’s student walkout at Butteville Elementary School in Edgewood.

At the beginning of the walkout they read a short statement, and invited those who didn’t want to stay to go to their homerooms. Fourth through eighth grades were present.

“We are gathered here today to protest gun violence and to give our respect to the victims of the Florida shooting,” said one of the four girls on the stage.

The gymnasium was darkened with light only over the stage. Eighty people made up of students, faculty and citizens stood in silence as the name of each person who died at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting was read. One name read each minute, followed by a little bit of wiggling and solemn silence. One boy walked slowly in a counter clockwise circle, pausing now and then.

The walkout was something students organized to be in solidarity with those around the United States.

Interviewed after the walkout, the students talked about their thoughts and feelings.

One said, “We didn’t do this to get rid of guns.” They organized the walkout to take action on helping the mentally ill and those who would “pull the trigger.”

“What can I do?” Another asked.

And another, “We wanted to express our feelings and our anger.”

Another student added that the walkout is “not throwing stones. It’s to bring people together.”

One student who organized the walkout said only five people in her class said they were coming to the walkout, and “four were us.”

“You need to get an understanding before you can participate,” she said.

To protect the privacy of the individual students interviewed at the school, Principal and Superintendent Alfonso Garagarza asked that their names not be used in this article.

“None of us are isolated,” he said. “We’re not immune to the pain.”

Like people across the country, the Butteville School community is greatly affected by the school killings.

“We should be happy to come to school,” a student said.

“If it’s the Land of the Free, then why are we afraid of death everyday when we come to school?” said another, speaking of students around the nation.

“Why are we harming people?” another added.

“If you feel like you’re going to physically harm someone,” a student said, “you need to stay home.” Or talk with someone.

Garagarza and his staff teach the students “to respect life and others, to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, to contribute positively toward the community and to understand the value of a good education,” he said in a telephone conversation Thursday.

If someone looks like they need help, they are spoken to by their teachers to discover what is wrong and resolve it.

“We don’t ignore anything,” Garagarza said.

The school has monthly Safety Committee meetings, and they are currently working with the Sheriff’s Department to review evacuation drills.

Studies show that getting kids out of the classroom quickly saves lives in a dangerous situation, he said. If you cannot evacuate safely, you “shelter in place,” another drill the school is reviewing with the department.

“You barricade and throw as much as you can at them,” he said, “Students and teachers are fighting for their lives at that point.”

Students said they have had nightmares because of school shootings.

Another student pointed out that those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were “in lockdown” and seventeen people lost their lives.

Yet these students’ opinion was that getting rid of guns is not the answer.

“You never know what’s going on inside of a soul,” one student said.

Butteville School has a behavioral health psychologist available to students. But the monitoring of how the students are doing day-to-day falls to the teachers, aides, and principal, Garagarza said. The school also has formed Student Study Teams in the Responsive Classroom model.

This also means learning how to show the kids what a bad day looks like as a teacher, he said, modeling how to have a bad day and “not bring everyone else down.”

The school has had no fights this year, he said. He believes the mediation he does really helps.

He and his staff work to show their students “life as it plays out.”

“Wisdom in life doesn’t play out in books,” he said.

“We are in full support and in alignment with students across the nation who are standing up to mourn their brethren,” Garagarza said.

One of the girl’s grandfather said, “I think every one of you girls were very brave. When you stood up, you had all these kids who stood up with you. Remember that. Stick to what you guys feel.”

To conclude the Walkout, one organizer read their message.

“Hi, can I just say thank you for coming here and supporting us? We couldn’t have done it with out you. Now I hope that the people that decided not to walk out with us have an understanding of why we did this. We didn’t do this to say “get rid of guns.” My Mom was in the Army and in the police academy, so why would I say to get rid of guns if to Me there is no good reason to? Again we did this to say help the mentally ill and the violent people causing gun violence. It’s not the guns causing the harm, it’s the people pulling the trigger. I hope we can stop the madness and start doing what’s right. Thank you for listening and joining us here today for a moment of silence and respect.”