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On March 14th, 2018, teachers, students, and families will participate in a #NationalSchoolWalkout organized by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER. The walkout is meant to last 17 minutes in protest of congressional inaction after the 17 people murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The Parkland shooting seems to have reignited a national movement for gun control, and the March 14th walkout is one of many actions materializing as a part of this.
This movement has largely been youth-led, and thus the opportunity is ripe for schools to support their students desire to engage in activism. But for elementary school teachers like myself, walkouts always pose a problem. Not all of my students are informed about current events. Those who are informed, still aren’t old enough to walkout independently. Teachers may be able to lead walkouts, but not without support from administrators, families, and/or school district leaders.
Nonetheless, there is no reason for younger students to be left out of national activist movements. As March 14th approaches, I’m thinking of ways to engage my students in a way that makes sense for elementary school.
Here are a few ideas I’ve generated. Please feel free to share your own in the comments!
- Make it a school-wide event. If schools are proactive, they can collaborate with families to make this a whole school event. In some ways, it is less transgressive than an actual walkout, but it others it’s even more powerful because it’s a statement made by the whole school community. The feasibility of this obviously depends on the political environment a school is situated in. Still, it represents an exciting possibility.
- Make the walkout a teach-in. As I said, many elementary school students may not know about the events leading up to and surrounding the March 14th walkout. So, use this time to change that. Help kids understand the debate taking place on gun violence and gun control. Teach them the vocabulary of protest and activism. Many kids know about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This can be a chance to show this the larger history of activism around numerous issues. Even if you zoom in on the history of walkouts alone, there’s so much to talk about. For example, I wish I had been taught about the East L.A. walkouts of 1968. Whatever topic you choose, I think it’s important to emphasize youth activism, for example, the Shirt Waist Makers’ Strike of 1909 or the Children’s March in Birmingham, 1963.
- Make posters or cards in solidarity. The walkout is ultimately a response to violence. In essence, it’s an act of frustration. Providing kids an outlet for their own emotions is key. When the Fusion nightclub shooting happened in June 2016, I had my 3rd graders create mini-posters with messages of love and solidarity. Putting forward these positive messages felt like an important counterbalance to the hatred and violence of that awful event. Similarly now, I think we can help our students feel empowered. By writing cards or making posters in solidarity with the walkout, students can participate in their own way, from within the classroom.
Whether I choose one of these or some combination of them all, I know my goal is the same. I want my students to know that you’re never too young to fight for what’s right.
Here are just a few additional teach-in resources: