While thousands of high schools around the United States joined the National Walkout movement to raise awareness of school safety in the wake of the deadly shootings in Parkland, Fla., few middle schools joined in. On Thursday morning, Watertown Middle School held its own walk out, which hundreds of students attended.
The organizers, most of whom were eighth-graders, gathered on the steps of the old West Junior High School building on Bemis Street and addressed the students who joined the walk out.
The group spoke about trying to stop the violence and read the names of all of those killed in Parkland, adding some details about each of their lives.
Eighth-grader Alex Thuene, who co-founded Watertown Middle School’s Stop Gun Violence Committee with eighth-grader Adham Hussein, addressed the students during the Watertown Middle School Walkout.
“Seventeen lives were lost. Fourteen were kids like you and me,” said Thuene, who said she decided to do something right after hearing about the Parkland shootings. “Yes, we are here to honor the lives lost, those who will never get to play their next baseball game, never get to text their girlfriend back, never get to do things we take for granted. In six minutes those little things were taken away from them.”
Thuene said she believes that everyone agrees that the problem is “kids keep getting murdered” and that people agree that they want them to stop being murdered.
“I don’t know if we can all agree on this last point, but I do believe in order to stop that from happening we need to take away the what is giving these murderers the power to do that,” Thuene said.
She said that, while she sees the mental health of the people committing mass shootings as part of the issue, she does not believe it is the main problem.
“The mental health system needs work, of course, but our suicide and depression rates are average compared to other First World countries, but you don’t see massacres and armed shootings lighting up the headlines in those countries,” Thuene said. “I believe core of the problem is lying deeper than the person itself, it lies with the ability of that person to take away 17 lives in 6 minutes.”
Working to change the system will be difficult, Thuene said, especially with many politicians and others strongly in favor of protecting gun-owners’ rights. She said she believes that kids like those in Watertown can lead the change.
“As a whole, united, we can stand united and put an end to the killing of our best friends, our brothers and sisters and siblings, alike,” Thuene said. “It will take time and the road to victory will not be forgiving, but if you truly came out here to honor the lives lost to gun violence we cannot give up. You cannot give up. Let’s do this. Let’s settle for nothing less than what we want. Let’s get angry, stay angry and use that anger to make sure that kids like us who have died have not died in vain.”
Students and their parents were told that joining the Walkout was their choice, said WMS Vice Principal Jason Del Porto. It appeared that close to half of the 550, or so, students at the middle school came for the Walkout. The students who joined the walkout were missing class, but Del Porto said they would not get in trouble for doing so.
“We are not interested in punishment. We are so proud of them. There will be no discipline,” Del Porto said. “This is one of those transformative moments for kids and to empower them to have a voice is one of our roles as educators, so I couldn’t be prouder.”
After the Walkout, the organizers came over to thank the adults from the Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment who came to lend their support. The students said they publicized the event during the morning announcements, during lunch time, and by visiting each homeroom.
What’s next, they are not quite sure. Thuene said the group would like to go to Town Hall with other students to give their speeches. They have also been talking about a joint effort with the organizers of the Watertown High School Walkout, but the movement has been slow going. There may be another event in May, Thuene said.