On Wednesday, hundreds of students from M-A walked out of school to join the national March for Our Lives movement and were met by students from several surrounding schools. Anticipation leading up to the walkout was high, and on the day of the event, it seemed like all anyone could talk about was the march, the signs, and the heartfelt speeches.
But not every student participated. In fact, there were hundreds of students left behind at M-A, each with their own reasons for opting out, and their voices are just as valuable as we all fight for a peaceful future.
In the middle of the second semester, school workloads are high for classes in every grade and at every level. It is also time to meet with guidance counselors to plan for next year, to take tests and improve grades before the third quarter closes. AP tests and midterms are looming, as are deadlines for summer programs, and, unsurprisingly, stress levels appear to be peaking at M-A.
For many students, stress was a major factor in their decision not to walk out. Sophomore Alisa Turner said, “I was already stressed about school for the past week and didn’t want to get more behind.”
Spring sports seasons are in full swing, too, so some students who already miss several important class periods per week were put in a difficult position when deciding whether to miss part of a block day. Jack Phillips, a sophomore, added, “I miss school too often because of baseball, so I didn’t want to miss more.”
Others believed that there were better alternatives to protest instead of walking out. Junior Logan Wilson said, “At the end of the day, yes, it may be more impactful, but the message that they’re sending is not the right one. [Students] are sending the message that ‘I am going to walk away from my education in order to go and listen to speeches in a park.’” Junior Alondra Loza added on to Wilson’s point and said, “The fact that [students] are skipping school to protest something, I feel like that’s kinda counterintuitive because to leave the school and be marked absent, it looks as if [students] are protesting the school.”
Similarly, freshman Neeraj Rattehalli believed that a walkout was not the best way for students’ voices to be heard. “It’s not that I don’t support the cause,” he said, “but it’s mainly because I don’t think this is an effective way…I think there are other ways we could do the same thing. We could start a petition, we could have many voices but skipping school to go and protest won’t get anything done.”
Freshman Kayla Quiroz also talked about a discussion she’d had in class, that school culture is actually a big part of the problem. Negativity has powerful effects on students’ mental health; Quiroz said, “we were talking about how we are part of the problem. That we can cause shootings by hurting people with our words. There are a bunch of people here that are going through things, and they come to school and are hurt even more, so we need to fix the problem at school. If we walk out we’re just walking out against ourselves.”
Students like Quiroz practiced their own form of activism and felt that they too were an active part of the solution by staying in school. Getting an education and trying to improve the school culture at M-A may be a more effective way to implement change because it shows dedication to helping people that may be troubled rather than leaving in protest.
For some, it was their belief in the importance of education that kept them back. Choosing school work over walking, for any reason, doesn’t mean these students feel the impact of the Parkland shooting any less than those who walked, nor does it prove that they hold any specific political beliefs. “I chose not to go because school is important, but I am sorry for the losses and the shooting,” said freshman Antonio Edward Ibarra.
James Nelson, an English and English Language Development (ELD) teacher, asked some of his ELD students if they had not walked out because of the opportunity that school provides, to which they all agreed. They had also seen some of their peers leaving school to cut class, but not to join the march, which defeated the purpose.
Senior Carlos Lvo said his family actually told him he was not allowed to go and skip his classes, but his reaction to the shooting was the same as many of those who walked: shock and confusion. “I don’t know,” he said, “Wow.”
Some students believed that the march was impactful and that their peers were brave to protest. Junior Neel Sinha said, “I believe it is one of the better ways to get a message across because it does cause problems, and it breaks a common system we have of going to school for this many hours, so having these giant groups of people walk out in the streets during school hours and getting escorted by the cops, it brings awareness as opposed to a couple of friends going out on a Saturday and randomly protesting.”
The student-organized walkout included schools such as Sacred Heart Preparatory, Menlo, East Palo Alto Academy, and Menlo-Atherton, and all schools met at El Camino Park to hear speeches written by students. The event ended at 12, and students had the opportunity to return to their class.