Ross Students Join National School Walkout

With the school's consent, Ross students organized a march and other gun-control efforts on Friday. Caleb Wright

With some students in nearby schools choosing to sit out Friday's National School Walkout against gun violence, those at the Ross School in East Hampton decided it was necessary to keep the momentum going and make renewed demands for gun safety in schools. This was the second nationally organized school walkout in about five weeks, and over 2,500 schools nationwide were said to have participated on Friday, which marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

"Having a space where people can feel protected and not in danger is important in order for a community to function well," said Caleb Wright, a ninth grader at the Ross High School, who was one of the main organizers of the event. "And seeing that school is where children spend most of their time, it should be a priority to make that space as secure and comfortable as possible."

Assisting him were his fellow students Caly Stewart, Ellie Damiecki, Greer Costello, Emma Tiedemann, Isabella Hosey, and Evvy Rattray. Together, they created an event for 7th through 12th graders on the Goodfriend Drive campus that was part walkout and part consciousness-building.

It began at 8:30 a.m. with schoolwide, hourlong relevant discussions led by each grade's cultural history teacher, after which students were given the option to participate in the march or return to their regular classes. Those marching met back in the main building, where they signed petitions and made posters. A voter registration table was set up for eligible students.

A guided meditation followed, led by Cathy Yun, the dean of wellness. Joe Kugelmass, an English teacher, then offered a short workshop intended to create a roadmap for successful conversations about gun control, instead of simply taking sides and talking past each other, the teacher said.

At around 10 a.m. about 60 middle and high schoolers then marched for 17 minutes through the wooded pathways that cut through the sprawling campus.

Every single seventh grader, the youngest class on the upper campus, had signed up to march, Caleb wrote in an email. "I was shocked and moved," he said.

The Ross middle and high school student body is made up of day students and boarders from more than 25 countries. With many dressed in orange -- the color that is now synonymous with gun protests -- they marched through the woods chanting "Stop gun violence!" and "Ban guns now!" A moment of silence was observed.

One Chinese 10th grader carried a sign with the name Peter Wang on it, in remembrance of the 15-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, a Chinese-American, who was shot while helping classmates escape the gunman who attacked their school in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. In recognition of his heroic act, Peter was posthumously accepted to his dream school, the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In contrast to the March 14 national walkout, in which students generally walked out and observed 17 minutes of silence -- one minute for each person killed at the Florida school -- many students were urged by the organizers of yesterday's National School Walkout to leave for the rest of the day's classes. Breaking up the school schedule, they believe, is necessary to get people's attention.

In Washington Square Park in Manhattan, students gathered and held a "die in" -- a protest in which participants lie down as if they were dead -- to demand action on gun reform.

Students across the country were not exactly unified on this walkout, especially since Columbine teachers and officials have pushed back against the protest, asking students to treat the day as one of service and not just a day to walk out.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, some of the students worked on acts of assistance on campus instead of actually walking out, the school's principal tweeted yesterday.

But at the Ross School, it was a single-minded show of solidarity with the national movement. According to Bill O'Hearn, the head of the high school, many of the student organizers were middle schoolers, and as several educators have pointed out in the current wave of teenage activism, organizing a walkout such as this is also helping to build the skills students will need to continue grassroots advocacy.

Unlike many schools that had warned students that they would be cited with an unexcused absence on their records for participating in yesterday's walkout, Ross students were granted excused absences. 

Each grade's cultural history teacher led discussions related to the day's events.Caleb Wright
Ross students marched through the campus carrying signs they had made themselves.Caleb Wright