Voices of change: Area students remember victims of gun violence

About 400 Sherando High School students participated in Wednesday's National Walkout Day. They listened to student speakers in the school auditorium. Courtesy photo

Students at area high schools established a united voice for school safety as they participated in National Walkout Day on Wednesday morning.

The walkout at Sherando High School, initially scheduled outdoors but was held in the auditorium due to student choice for safety, was lead by students. The Northern Virginia Daily was not allowed in the auditorium but was given access to three of the walkout organizers afterward.

All three said they wanted to be a part of making a difference, noting that their voices are the voices of change.

“We want to see change and be a part of remembrance,” said Meghan Martin, a junior at Sherando High School and one of the walkout organizers.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, about 400 Sherando students filed into the auditorium to listen to student speakers. Students then read the 17 names and ages of each person killed during the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, with a moment of silence for each.

Organizers of the Sherando High School walkout, AnnMarie Kelly, left, and Meghan Martin, spoke to students during Wednesday's walkout. The names of the 17 people killed during a shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school were read during the walkout. Courtesy photo

The walkout occurred nationwide and lasted 17 minutes, one minute for each victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.

“We wanted to be the change. We can’t vote but we have been talking to the School Board and local representatives,” said senior AnnMarie Kelly, another Sherando walkout organizer.

Walkout organizer Ainsley Rucker, a junior, said she writes, calls or emails an official every day.

The organizers offered students pamphlets that listed local officials and how to contact them.

They stressed the walkout was not held as a political event or to address gun laws, explaining that it was about school safety.

While they say they feel safe at Sherando, school shootings create fear. The students said they wonder where they would run to or hide if a shooting were to occur at their school.

The three organizers said one example of a needed security feature at Sherando High School would be the addition of a door system that locks and students and visitors would first have to be buzzed in. They said that system had been on the school improvement plan but was cut due to lack of funding.

“We should be thinking of college, not this,” Ainsley said.

Sherando principal John Nelson said he was proud of the students when they expressed the desire to be a part of the walkout.

“We talked about it for an extended period of time. I asked them what would a walkout accomplish and that they needed a purpose,” he said, adding that it was the students who decided they wanted to honor the victims while working to make schools safer.

Shenandoah County Public Schools administrators and principals shut out the media on Wednesday, saying they did not want coverage and that any walkout would be for the students.

However, Abbey Rinker, a senior at Strasburg High School, reached out to the Northern Virginia Daily by email.

The walkout was held outside on the track with everyone sitting in the bleachers.

“It was really nice to see the student body, staff, and even police officers come together,” Rinker wrote. “We all decided to cut our phones off and sit or walk in complete silence.”

She liked that the student body came together to remember not only the victims of the Parkland shooting but all school shootings.

Wednesday’s walkout for them was also not to have an “argument on weapons” but to realize what is happening and start to form a “stance” on it, she said.

“These recent school shootings are a very frighting and real thing. These school shootings make me feel very uneasy pulling into my school parking lot every morning,” Rinker wrote. “I do feel these shootings are a large wake-up call to not only Strasburg but to the rest of the country.”

She had one question.

“What will security in public schools look like in the coming years?”

Warren County Superintendent L. Greg Drescher said a total of about 220 students from Warren County High School, Warren County Middle School, Skyline High School and Skyline Middle School participated in the day.

They used the 17 minutes to remember the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School victims, he said.