The Kids Have Something To Say: Dispatch From A Grade-School Walkout

March 16, 2018

I was planning to take a bit of time Wednesday morning in the quiet of my home office to write a post for our agency blog.

I had something to say.

But before I could launch into my diatribe, the phone rang. It was my 10-year-old daughter calling from school. It was National School Walkout day, when kids all across the country banded together to protest the gun violence that had become an unwelcome part of their school experience. She had just learned that her elementary school would require the presence of a parent if she wanted to partake. Mom had an appointment. Could Dad come?

It dawned on me that she clearly had more important things to say than I did. I ditched my laptop and managed to arrive at the school shortly before the planned walk-out.

The principal met me in the office. She seemed flustered. She wanted to respect the kids’ wishes but told me she didn’t want a situation where younger students who were not yet politically aware saw a chance to bolt the classroom for a potentially chaotic 17 minutes on the playground. She was clearly conflicted by the opportunity to teach versus the obligation to keep order.

The compromise, she told me, was her requirement for an accompanying parent. I understood, and I told her I wanted my son, a third-grader, to have the option to walk out as well. We have not sheltered our kids from discussions about assault rifles, Sandy Hook and what had happened in Parkland. He jumped at the chance to join his sister.

As we spoke, a couple fifth-graders frantically worked the office phone in a futile, last-minute effort to reach parents who might be able to join them. Unfortunately, I was the only parent who could make it to the school on such short notice, so as 10 a.m. struck, it looked like the two Pierach kids would represent the student body at St. Anthony Park Elementary in the National School Walkout. But just as we were ready to exit the building, my daughter’s teacher, who happened to have a day off from classroom duties, appeared with six other fifth-graders who had somehow talked their way into participating.

“Rules” clearly bent, out the door we all went.

What played out was deeply moving. The kids shared stories about why they chose to walk out. They had recently read A Sweet Smell of Roses in class. The lesson they had taken away from that civil rights-era story: Kids can make a difference. They spoke about unity and about being kind to each other and those who might appear to be different. They spoke excitedly about participating in the upcoming March For Our Lives. They shivered. Only my kids had managed to grab their coats against the late winter wind. Choking back emotion, the teacher shared a story about how she first learned about Sandy Hook. She spoke as a mom and teacher, letting the kids see her tears. I was hoping they didn’t see mine. We all stood quietly in a small circle, absorbing this incredibly human moment with a person who cared for them perhaps more than they will ever know. Their relieved principal, having averted a chaotic mass walkout, soon joined our circle. She quietly assured the kids they were safe, but offered no guarantees. Chances were remote, but measures were in place, she assured them. Be prepared, but don’t live your lives afraid, she said. Another parent hurried up the sidewalk to join our little protest.

For 17 frigid minutes, we all stood in a small area on the school grounds called the Peace Garden. For the final three minutes we fell into reflective silence as the first robins of spring chirped in the background. A hopeful sign of the impending thaw? At 10:17 the walkout was over. A quick picture and back to class.

Indeed, the kids have something to say. And they ARE making a difference.