Forming a half circle, parents of Marengo Elementary School students gathered in front of the campus Wednesday morning as part of the national walkout to put an end to gun violence and honor the 17 students and faculty members killed one month ago in Parkland, Florida.
From 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m., the group of about 40 stood in silence holding hands as they quietly reflected as thousands of young people across the country took part in a massive protest movement. Each minute remembered the 17 victims in last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Saida Staudenmaier was among the group at Marengo who took part in a symbolic gesture to embrace children and schools. “Everyday we send our kids to school and put them in the care of other members of our community,” she explained. “We’re here today to show those members of the community how much we support them. The parents who have shown up today believe the way for our children to stay safe is common sense gun laws and safety in our country.”
Staudenmaier believes local schools are safe because parents are engaged with teachers and administrators. “But, there’s always more that can be done,” she stressed. “The best way to protect students is to not escalate the situation.”
Wednesday’s event came out of a recent PTA meeting at the school. A consensus was reached to move forward with the idea and the concept was pushed on social media. Among the participants was Grady McFerrin, who answered, “kids and their safety,” when asked why he took time out of his day to remember the 17 lives lost in the Florida shooting. “The importance is to take some kind of action and to send a message to government that we need common sense gun control.”
With her attendance, Aman Thind wanted to show her support for Marengo students and stress the need for better gun control laws in the country. In addition, she wanted to pay tribute to the Florida victims. “We’ve had enough,” she said, in hopes her words will reach political forces in Washington, D.C.
Joey Bland wanted to show solidarity for the students who walked out of classrooms, not only locally but also throughout the nation. In addition, he wanted to pay tribute to the lives that were lost in school shootings over the years. “Being silent for awhile [17 minutes Wednesday] and kind of admitting that there’s a loss that has happened is really important,” he said.
For Todd Edwards, it was important for him to show his support for students “who thought it was important issue enough to leave school despite the consequences they might face, and that there were adults in this community who were willing to stand behind them,” he said. “There are also a lot of parents out there who have lost their children to gun violence. To spend 17 minutes thinking about them is important to show they are supported as well.”
As the 17 minute tribute came to a close, students from the nearby middle school walked south on Marengo Avenue past the elementary school, some holding posters reading: “Protect Kids, Not Guns!” and “No More Silence. End Gun Violence.”
Amy Betts wanted to let the students know “we have their backs and we love them” with her participation in the Wednesday morning activity. Like others, she’s pushing for gun control, especially in the aftermath of the 17 killed one month ago in Florida. On the same day that students across the country walked out of classes, a judge entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Nikolas Cruz, as the teen was arraigned in the mass shooting at a South Florida high school.
“Peace, kids, the future,” said Heather Bland, when asked why she attended Wednesday’s event at Marengo. “I love South Pas because of community. We can strengthen our community, and in doing that, we might find the kids on the margins who would be more likely to do something (unlawful) and maybe help intervene.”
While the parents gathered out front of the Marengo campus, inside the classrooms at 10 a.m. students listened as teachers read the book “I am Peace,” by Susan Verde, which describes “different things we can do for ourselves to maintain that good state of mind and give kids good strategies to help them as things are difficult in our world,” said the principal, Patricia Cheadle.
The special reading was part of the “One School, One Book” program on the Marengo campus.
Other elementary schools remembered the fallen. Monterey Hills School held a peace assembly as a parent performed, playing his guitar and singing meaningful songs while some students read impactful poems. The assembly for third to fifth graders did not include a discussion of gun-control, nor school shootings, noted Principal Dr. Laurie Narro, but shifted the focus on the school’s “budding citizens to peace, inclusion and kindness,” she explained.
The school made a commitment to the Kindness Week Challenge in late January, “which later grew into Kindness Year,” explained Narro in a letter sent to MHS parents. “All teachers were asked to do Second Step (social-emotional learning) lessons on empathy from January-March. During the last few weeks, I have visited our 5th grade classes to challenge them to engage in problem-solving; to act as ‘upstanders’; and to model behavior to their younger peers that was both empathetic and inclusive. It made sense to go back to our 5th graders and see how they could share their learning.”
Narro shared with 5th grade parents that “our children are growing up during a time of change and challenge,” she explained. “We must instill in them the need to be active citizens to make our world a better place: a place of peace and compassion.”
Over at Arroyo Vista School, a group of girls sat in silence for 17 minutes. A “Keep Our School Safe” sign was in view of students, and at recess a boys’ basketball game, designed to eliminate 17 players, was played.
“While Arroyo Vista teachers and staff cannot encourage or participate in the walkout, we want to be responsive by engaging our older students in a school-based activity that is age appropriate and suitable for our elementary students,” Arroyo Vista Principal Cheryl Busick wrote in a note to AV parents. In order to allow students an opportunity to voice their ideas, concerns and frustrations, Busick said the morning recess schedule was adjusted so that third, fourth and fifth graders were on the school’s playground during the designated walkout timeframe of 10 to 10:17 a.m. on Wednesday.
South Pasadena High students showed the largest protest against gun violence Wednesday, filing out of classrooms at 10 a.m. before pouring onto city streets. Similarly, millions walked out of schools in the nationwide demonstration.