Aztec students participate in 'walk up' on front lawn

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FARMINGTON — Students in San Juan County joined the national demonstrations to call attention to gun violence in schools Wednesday, though some schools broke the mold of the widespread student activism.

Students across the United State participated in walkouts to demand action on gun violence in schools and to honor victims of school shootings. The national walkout movement is largely inspired by students from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which was the site of the most recent mass shooting in the U.S. Today’s events fall on the one-month anniversary of the school shooting, in which a 19-year-old shooter killed 17 victims.

The walkouts have been a largely grassroots movement organized through social media, but some schools have taken the initiative to organize events to ensure student safety and perhaps to gather with a different intent. Though the national peaceful protests include a population with a diverse array of opinion, many walkout participants are calling for legislative action regarding gun control.

Aztec High School, where a gunman shot and killed two students on Dec. 7, held a demonstration at the campus Wednesday that aimed to remove politics from the conversation in order to foster a positive and productive environment and honor victims from Aztec, Parkland and other shootings, Principal Warman Hall said. The school called the event a "walk up."

“The kids did not want it to be a big protest rally,” Hall said, adding that “our kids were like, ‘We get we need that conversation as a society, and we get that some of us believe differently than one another, but we want to focus on supporting one another to be involved in the system in a positive, productive way.’ Part of our recovery emotionally since our tragedy is that our kids and our staff and everyone want to focus on those acts of kindness and those acts of purposeful well intent with one another that will move us forward.”

The school held an assembly at 10 a.m. in which the students and staff gathered on the school’s front lawn to hold a moment of silence for victims of school violence and for a flag lowering. Hall said the event was school sanctioned, but largely organized by the school’s student body leadership.

Other schools throughout the county also held similar school-sanctioned assemblies or events to address the issue, including at Bloomfield, Kirtland Central and Newcomb high schools and C.V. Koogler Middle School in Aztec. Hall said school leaders across the nation were likely nervous about the day’s events, saying schools have a responsibility to help students productively define, refine and develop their world views in a safe and educational environment.

“I don’t know that it would be the school’s place to ignore what’s welling up among our young people nationwide, but it also would not be the school’s place to condone them walking out into a setting that wasn’t educational and potentially wasn’t safe,” Hall said.

Several dozen students at Farmington High School participated in a walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

One student, senior Hannah Herring, said she was one of two students to walk out of her third-period AP English class. Herring said participating students met in the commons before heading to the football field, where they held a moment of silence for shooting victims.

Assistant principal Kristi Burns said the students chanted, “Aztec strong” and “Parkland strong” to show solidarity with schools affected by gun violence.

Herring said she participated in the walkout to make her voice heard by local, state and national decision makers. As part of the demographic most closely affected by violence in schools, Herring said students can play “a very crucial role in providing perspective” regarding the controversial issue.

“I think that the people in charge are noticing that this group of people is becoming of age and that we all have voices and what we say is going to matter because we are all about to be able to vote,” Herring said after the walkout. “This is becoming known to the eyes of the lawmakers that we are important. I think that it gives us all a sense of empowerment that we are going to become adults who can make change.”

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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