Hundreds of Vail Valley students walk out of class to honor 17 slain in Florida, demand action in school safety
Students somber, reflective during Vail Mountain School walkout
VAIL — More than 200 Vail Mountain School students, teachers, faculty and parents reflected silently at the National Student Walkout on Wednesday, March 14.
VMS junior Mel McCalley and senior Christie Spessard organized the event.
“We gather here to remember the 15 students and two teachers who lost their lives while attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14,” McCalley said. “Other students and teachers from schools across the nation are doing the same to memorialize the victims of this tragedy and to come together to demand action to stop school shootings. Let us spend the next 17 minutes in silent reflection to honor the victims of Stoneman Douglas and all other school shootings.”
When the Parkland incident occurred, McCalley emailed Spessard and suggested the walkout.
While other schools chose to march, VMS sat.
“I think sitting is a little less divisive than actually marching with signs. Some people have very strong opinions, and we want everyone to come together,” McCalley said.
Chavez said they sat “mainly to memorialize those 17 victims of the shooting. Sitting is a powerful time to reflect and our hope is to get people talking about school shootings, let them form their opinions and let others hear those opinions.”
Freshman Katy Jane Hardenbergh added, “We understand this is a long time, but we would like for you to use it to think about the victims and the severity of the issue of school safety and shootings.”
During the somber 17 minutes, students hugged, held hands and shed tears.
Hannah Hopkins, a junior, participated because she “wanted to stand up for the people who got shot at the school.”
Sophomore Marley Chappell took part because she “doesn’t want to see this happen in another school.”
Spessard rang a Tibetian Singing Bowl to announce the end of the 17 minutes.
“We hope that this time has helped you to reflect on the seriousness of the issue of school shootings in the United States,” Spessard said. “I believe that we can all agree upon the fact that something must be done differently in our country so that children are safe at school, and so that Americans don’t have to live in fear.
“I encourage you to take some time to educate yourself on this issue, form your own opinions, have discussions and debates, and find ways to take action as an individual. This affects all of us in different ways, but our unity should give us hope for change and a better future.”
Following the walkout, Spessard, McCalley, Hardenbergh and senior Alicia Chavez gathered for a roundtable discussion about mass shootings and schools.
“After the Vegas shooting, I was really affected in a different way than I had been with other shootings,” Spessard said.
At a weekly gathering of upper-school students, Spessard announced that she wanted to start conversations about mass school shootings, and if anyone wanted to “make change” to come and join her. She created a group of about 50 students and teachers to discuss current issues affecting the country and educate individuals on “ways how to act and make change in our own small community.”
Hardenbergh added, “Hopefully this will make people discuss what is going on and think about these things.”
— Laura Bell
EAGLE — Our children practice lockdown drills the way their parents and grandparents practiced duck-and-cover drills.
For parents and grandparents looking back, it may seem the same.
The notion of a nuclear attack was remote.
School shooters are real.
“Our parents did not plan exits when they entered a classroom for the first time every semester,” said Riley Dudley during Eagle Valley High School’s walkout Wednesday, March 14. “The idea of a person coming into a school and killing kids was unimaginable. For us, these things are a part of daily life.”
More than frustration
Hundreds of Vail Valley students joined millions nationwide, exclaiming “Enough!” and walked out of class for 17 minutes Wednesday, one minute for each of the 17 victims of last month’s school shooting in Florida.
They grew up in the wake of the Columbine massacre, where two students shot and killed 15 people. Last year, Columbine dropped off the list of America’s deadliest mass shootings.
This is more than frustration, more than fist shaking, they said.
“Things feel different. … We want to make it known that something does need to change, so that our children, 10 or 20 years down the line, don’t have to go through this,” Dudley said.
Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the most recent and sadly will likely not be the last.
“There will most likely be another school that makes national headlines because events like this have become commonplace in our society,” said Dudley, reading a letter signed by hundreds of local students to be sent to elected officials across Colorado and Washington, D.C.
“When did we as a society decide that this was acceptable … that it was acceptable when a community suffers such a tragic loss?” Riley asked.
“It is your responsibility, as elected officials, to put laws in place to protect us. We are asking you to, please, fulfill this responsibility.”
Battle Mountain sophomore Troy Rindone called for gun control.
“No one should be able to buy a gun that can kill hundreds of people in minutes,” Rindone said. “We live in a developed country and my parents have to worry about me coming home each day. Students who have experienced a school shooting are angry. Parents who dropped their child at school and were never able to pick them up are angry.
“I do not want Battle Mountain High School, or any other high school, to be just another name shown on the news at the end of the year.
I am sure that no one who has seen their best friend die, or a teacher die defending them, wishes there were more semi-automatic weapons.”
Peaceful and free
The walkouts were peaceful and free of incident. Local law enforcement made sure the public was kept well clear of the students.
Vail Christian High School’s contingent was around a dozen. They quietly and reverently left class, heading back 17 minutes later.
At Eagle Valley, a group of students advocating for their Second Amendment rights demonstrated around the corner of the school building.
Eagle Valley junior Hunter Jaramillo said the conversation is shifting to Second Amendment rights, instead of the mentally ill people who sometimes use them for heinous purposes.
“I don’t know of a hunter who shoots up a school,” Jaramillo said. “Guns aren’t a bad thing. It’s the people behind them who shoot up schools. If you know how to use them, you’ll be fine. But if you’re jacked up in the head, that’s the kind of people (who) come in and shoot up schools.”
They all stood on common ground Wednesday.
“It is our right to feel safe at school,” Riley said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.