NEWINGTON – Newington High School students joined thousands of students across the country Friday in a show of solidarity against gun violence.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Friday morning, about 200 NHS students walked out of their school and marched around the building. Following the walkout, students had an open discussion about gun violence. Press was not allowed on school grounds during the march, but several of the walkout’s ten organizers talked to reporters about the event later in the day.
“This was a cause that we were all passionate about in our own ways,” said Jenna Scanlon, a junior at NHS. “Whether we’ve experienced gun violence or our family or friends have experienced gun violence … we participated in this so that our fellow students could take action and learn how to use their own voice.”
Jillian Grande, another junior who was part of the organization committee for the walkout, said some people questioned how students were addressing this issue. Grande disagreed.
“The moment you become silent about things that matter, you’re giving in to the problems that society faces,” Grande said. “We need to deal with this head on and start talking about it and start the discussion.”
Lane Murdock, a Ridgefield High School sophomore, organized the national event with her peers in February after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Friday marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. According to the National School Walkout website, there were more than 2,700 walkout events planned Friday across the country.
“We had a letter writing room where people could write letter to legislators and senators in our state letting them know that we care about this issue,” said Carly Saindon. “I’m a senior, I’m going to be voting in the next election … we will be voting, we’re coming and we have strong opinions.”
Cassandra Mayer, a sophomore who helped organize the walkout, said Friday’s event wasn’t just about school shootings.
“I think it’s really important to recognize the other areas of gun violence,” Mayer said. “Gun violence doesn’t just affect us in our classrooms … We also really do have to keep in mind gun violence in domestic violence situations and gun violence in inner cities. These issues don’t really get as much attention.”
The organizers said it wasn’t easy putting Friday’s event together. While Principal Terra Tigno was supportive, not all administrators and staff were in favor of a walkout. They were even initially threatened with arrest if they left the school, organizers said. After much discussion and transparent talks with “higher ups” in the district, a compromise was reached. The organizers said they were proud of their school for allowing them to express themselves. Emily Sousa said it felt good to hear students chanting during the march that were originally unsure if they were going to participate.
“It was so inspiring to see that other people cared. They could show up, but they’re also actively participating in this event,” the junior said.
There was a similar walkout event organized last month at high schools nationwide. NHS students did not walk out of school during this one, instead opting to hold a memorial for the victims of the Parkland shooting. Students who wished to participate held a 17-minute moment of silence in remembrance of the 17 victims.
During last month’s event, Jessica Buslewicz read a short bio about Carmen Schentrup, one of the Parkland victims. Buslewicz, who said she saw herself in Schentrup, said she reached out to Schentrup’s family to ask if she could mention her in her graduation speech. The senior said she’ll ask the audience to think of the Parkland victims and other victims of gun violence.
“Maybe bringing it up six months later is going to show people that, you know I’m not going to give it up and no one else is going to give it up. This is going to be a lasting impact until someone does something,” Buslewicz said.
As for what’s next, NHS’s passionate group of organizers said this won’t be the last time their voices are heard.
“We want kids to stop dying, and that’s the bottom line,” Scanlon said. “Students shouldn’t be dying in the hallways. There should be no blood being shed in these hallways, especially in an educational facility. This is where we come to learn and to grow and to get ready for the life we’re preparing for.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.