Wednesday’s National School Walkout became a great lesson.
But oddly, the lesson was for the adults.
Cheers to Campbell Memorial High School and its community for being the Valley school that seemed to most embrace the walkout as an opportunity for students and the adults around them.
Of the 12 or so schools we visited Wednesday, Campbell got it. So did Youngstown schools, where in similar fashion, officials embraced the student interest of the moment.
Too many other school leaders seemed flummoxed about how to handle this emerging student want.
The national event asked students to walk out of school for 17 minutes. That represents one minute for every person killed in Florida one month ago. It was organized in part by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. But it was crafted mainly via the thrust of the group, Women’s March.
For the weeks and days leading up to Wednesday, many school officials contorted in ways to manage against the student tide. In some places, it led to threats of suspensions and other sanctions.
Canfield High School went so far as to park buses around its school as makeshift barricades against potential car bombings.
Yet, officials called social and local media the alarmists in this whole episode. Campbell and Youngstown consumed mostly that same media – with opposite results.
I might have been the first adult to learn a bit.
My son attends Poland Seminary. After the Florida shooting, there was a social media post flareup at his school. From that event, he and I talked about him offering student assistance to his principal – if desired. He did; his principal was appreciative. That initiative grew into talk of the walkout event, and I encouraged him to stay on the leadership course he had started.
One day a week back, we discussed the walkout. He said the principal was mad at them for the walkout talk. I was confused as I thought he was working with his principal. He said the principal was fearful for various reasons, but students were still planning to do it.
He reminded me that I had said to “stay on course with the walkout.”
(Insert “feeling dumb” here.)
I said, “Whoa.” My counsel was to stay the course with helping your principal. He’s the boss, I explained, and you’re best to respect the boss. I said going rogue is not forbidden, but I’d prefer to exhaust all opportunities to collaborate.
Also at that time, I did not fully appreciate the commitment of the students locally and nationally. I remember me back in the day.
My crowd was not ready for such a topic as much as we were ready for a day out of classes.
As I said a few graphs ago, I learned a bit.
The students The Vindicator found did a good job expressing concerns of the day – especially those who walked out against school officials’ wishes.
In our videos and in our story quotes, the students displayed knowledge, context and commitment. And also – no overreaction.
Among the adults, there was overreaction. Some actions against the walkout lead you to think that many school officials were working from the same memo.
One explainer The Vindicator got several times was: “Announcing a time for an organized student outdoor event jeopardizes safety.”
Apparently overlooked in that explainer were things such as posted daily dismissal times and basketball games, and football, and such. All have publicized times.
I appreciate officials’ challenges. They are targets from all directions: the board, the parents, the teachers, the boosters, peer officials and businesses, and of course, the students.
There’s an irony that two schools that had the best results Wednesday – Campbell and Youngstown – are often tagged in our region as the most troubled. Hopefully, the suburban schools embrace what the city schools taught them.
Clearly, school officials were most concerned for the political nature of the walkout. It seemed to be code for not messing with the National Rifle Association’s opposition to all of this.
The NRA is politics, same as Women’s March. Politics is life, and life is not clean or perfect or scripted. Life must be worked through. The NRA’s hardline stance and big spending muddies our process.
Unlike life, school is scripted. That’s understandable for a place that must move hundreds of students by the hour, the day, the week and the year over 13-plus years of our lives.
But schools are also about learning. Learning comes in so many ways.
Wednesday’s walkout was a day for learning.
In the end, I think the kids taught the adults.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.