Students Prove It Once Again on National Walkout Day

Of Course, Discourse Matters
Posted on 03/20/2018
Image of David James and Mayor Horrigan on National Walkout DayThere was a bright light emanating from Akron Public Schools last week. March 14 was National Walkout Day, and we were fully behind our students. Our teachers, administrators and board were behind them, too. This was an enormous opportunity for a teachable moment. We prepared for it in a thoughtful way and included as many of our students and teachers in the process as possible.

We invited media to tell the city, the region, the nation and the world about this because we believe in our students and the classroom leaders who guide them every day. We allowed them to get close to the kids and tell their story.

This was both a civics lesson and a history lesson rolled into one. It was an example of exercising a liberty granted by our Constitution. It's democracy in action, and every voice counts.

Our young people are now part of the national discourse.

Akron Public Schools believes everyone who encouraged the efforts of students choosing to demonstrate during the National School Walkout actively supported and participated in making schools safe again.

Take a look. Our students are currently learning more about the workings of government and individual rights than they ever might from a textbook. Most students would probably rather not "cut or disrupt" class, but the real and rising fear of being shot to death during an average day at school has now overridden their desire to follow all the rules. I, for one, applaud their action.

March 14 was primarily about memorializing the victims in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Our students, in all but a couple of our nearly 50 schools, created and designed these various ceremonies themselves. Yes, even fourth- and fifth-graders. They presented them to teachers who then presented them to principals who had them all reviewed, approved/amended by administrators.

There were dozens and dozens of observances, big and small, from flag installations to silent vigils, speeches and music with some original compositions. We had an organized schematic for each school that would impress even the most cynical person I know. And it was all done with the enormous and fearless support of educators and administrators. I say fearless because there were school systems around the US that did not encourage these teachable moments. Some ignored the day. Others made it difficult for students to use their voices. Some refused media access to the things they did do, as if embarrassed.

And for those who think students would "protest" anything to get out of class -- as some have suggested -- our youngest students stood outside for 20 minutes in a 20-degree wind chill to express sadness over the loss of life in Parkland. That is a serious commitment to the gravity of this matter.

They're organized, mobilized and energized. To watch young people wake up and tell us, express to us, that they want a better world is a beautiful, motivating thing. And school is the place where this needs to occur.

Image of David James and Mayor Horrigan on National Walkout DayMy feelings on such matters are shared by our mayor. For that, I am grateful. His ongoing support of our mission is critical to our success; to that end, Mayor Dan Horrigan joined me on National Walkout Day at Jennings CLC where students expressed themselves with thoughtfulness, respect and dignity just as the mayor and I would have expected them to do.

Akron Public Schools teachers, support staff, principals and administrators are to be commended for their thoughtful and careful planning for the March 14 observances. They worked with our students, let them express themselves, gave them room to do it and then worked to make it happen. With nearly 50 school buildings and 22,000 students, this was no small feat.

I would add that a couple of our schools had to also manage the presence of quite a number of reporters and videographers in their buildings, some even starting a couple of weeks prior to the walkout. Thanks to Danjile Henderson and Larry Johnson Jr., principals at Case Elementary School and Firestone CLC, for showing the region and the world -- through reporting by the New York Times -- how we handled this very visible, teachable moment and how some very young, independent thinkers inspired us.

Best Wishes,
Image of David James Signature
David W. James
Akron Public schools
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