Students walk out to send message

Woodland Regional High School senior and Student Body President Anna Witkowski addresses her fellow students during a walkout March 14 at the school in Beacon Falls. The walkout was part of a national movement during which students held walkouts to press for safer schools and stand against gun violence in schools. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Students poured out of the doors of Woodland Regional High School and into the courtyard on the morning of March 14.

Despite the freezing temperature and cold wind, students gathered around Woodland senior and Student Body President Anna Witkowski as she stood behind a podium in the courtyard.

“The Woodland Enough School Walkout is an expression of our disappointment in our current Congress and the lack of action about the topic of mass school shootings. Schools should be a safe place, and we want to gain that right,” Witkowksi proclaimed to the crowd.

The walkout was part of a movement nationwide where students held walkouts to press for safer schools and stand against gun violence in schools following last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 people dead. March 14 marked exactly four weeks since the shooting occurred.

Witkowksi said students at Woodland and across the nation are tired of waiting for legislators to do something to make a difference.

“We need our legislators to recognize that the issue of mass school shootings requires far more than thoughts and prayers; it requires action,” Witkowski said.

Witkowski added, “We walked out because we believe that teachers should be heroes for the lives they change through educating, not because they had to take bullets for their students. We walked out because we are tired of hearing about people our own age being gunned down in places that should be the safest.”

During the walkout, which lasted 17 minutes, Witkowski read the names and a short biography of each of the 17 people who died in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In an interview after the walkout, Witkowski said she sees herself in the victims.

“We were seeing people we could relate to. Many seniors died. I am a senior and I saw myself in them. They were planning to go to college. It just became so personal and we just needed a change,” Witkowksi said.

It wasn’t just students who attended the walkout. School administrators and town officials were on hand as well.

Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren said the school wanted to give students the option of participating in the walkout, but that the entire event was student run.

“This is their life. The bottom line is we are not teaching them how to think, we want to teach them to think, and to think critically. They are definitely doing that by being part of this,” Ogren said.

According to Ogren, about half the school’s students chose to participate in the walkout. Those that didn’t remained in class.

At Naugatuck High School, the school observed a moment of silence and rang a bell 17 times in honor of the victims of the shooting.

Naugatuck High Principal Janice Saam said the school also encouraged students to walk up to other students and say something nice rather than walking out.

“Walk up to the kid who sits alone, walk up to a teacher and thank him, walk up to someone who you might not speak to,” Saam said.

Saam said the school chose to do the walk up and not walkout for a few reasons. She said after talking to some of the student leaders, it was determined that there wasn’t a desire to walk out.

Saam said she was also concerned for the safety of the students.

“When you are going to dump a school out at a date and time, you will open it to someone to take advantage of it,” Saam said.

Some students did walk out, however.

Naugatuck High sophomore Molly Kennelly said about 10 students walked out.

Kennelly said the students who walked out “…believe that we cannot have a moment of silence every time these tragedies happen and expect them to get better, which is why we decided that our country as a whole had an opportunity to make change with strength in numbers.”

Kennelly said administrators took the names of the students walked out, and they may face discipline action from the school.

Saam said the school has no plans to discipline the students that walked out.