“We Are The Victims. We Are The Change”: Southern Tier Students Prepare To Join Nation In Walkout


Schools in the Southern Tier are preparing for middle school and high school students to walk out of their classrooms later this morning to raise awareness about the impact of gun violence.

The nationwide protests are a direct response to the Parkland, Florida shooting, one month ago.

The plan is for students to walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims of the shooting. And it’s been planned for weeks.

Celia Clarke / WSKG Public Media

Lena Kennell, right, and her mom, Melody Ramsey, left, at their home in Newfield.

A few days after the Parkland shooting, Newfield High School had a lockdown drill. Even though there wasn’t a real threat, for Lena Kennell, sophomore, it felt real.

“We were sitting there in the dark because you have to turn off the lights so [the shooter wouldn’t] know you’re there. And I was thinking, ‘what if there’s a real shooter? What if my younger brothers are at risk down at the elementary school?’

“My heart ached. I didn’t know what to do. I started freaking out inside. What if this is the end?”

Kennell and her friend, Caitlin Howell, senior, organized other students in Newfield. They feel elected representatives are guilty of inaction.

“We need to honor the victims of school shootings with change. We need to honor them with policy,” said Kennell. “The adults aren’t doing anything right now, but the students are.

“We can make a difference even if we can’t vote yet.”

They’ve planned a spoken word poem about control, to read the biographies of the 17 Parkland students, and encourage students to write letters to Congress. Kennel and Howell organized the walkout with little help from adults because this is a movement by students and for students.

School administrators in the area are embracing the protests to varying degrees.

Administrators at Maine-Endwell have told their students they would consider it a violation of the code of conduct if they walk out.

Others, like Horseheads, have tried to incorporate the sentiment and have organized “walk-ins” to the auditorium where they plan to have speeches from students and a moment of silence.

At Vestal, the principal is challenging his students to reach out to people they wouldn’t normally interact with, do acts of kindness and eat lunch with someone outside their friend group.