Walk up or out, students honor gun victims

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Northeast Dubois High School junior Paige Knies held a flower up for sophomore Colby Stafford to smell before class Wednesday morning. Zachary Uebelhor, a junior, brought 17 flowers to school and gave them away as an act of kindness to honor the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida one month ago. Colby wore a "free hugs" sign as his method to promote kindness.


As students walked out of schools across the country this morning to protest gun violence and call for stricter gun control, youth attending at least two Dubois County high schools got in on the national event in their own ways.

Members of the Northeast Dubois High School student council organized a “Walk Up Day” where they complimented peers or took part in 17 acts of kindness in place of exiting the school. The students aimed to complete 17 positive interactions in honor of the 17 people who were killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

Organizers said the activity was gauged more at honoring the victims than protesting gun violence.

“We just felt like there was a better way of honoring those victims than protesting and walking out,” said senior student council member Kortney Quinn. “Maybe we could help others by just going up and saying kind things.”

Jeep students also had the option of writing uplifting messages on post-it notes on a bulletin board in the school gymnasium at 10 a.m. — the scheduled time of the national walkout movement. Students will be able to take a note when they’re feeling down or add one to help cheer another student up.

Corporation social worker Paige Mundy said the “Walk Up Day” came in response to the fact that past school shooters have been outcasts or felt pushed to the side. The goal was to honor the victims as well as promote a positive culture at Northeast Dubois. The middle school participated in a similar activity that promoted 17 acts of kindness.

Northeast Dubois High School sophomore Colby Stafford, left, and senior Luke Fuhrman wrote positive messages on sticky notes Wednesday. They left class briefly and met in the gymnasium. Fuhrman said that he was not interested in protesting guns, but he wanted to check out the "walk up" event to see what nice things could be done to honor the victims.

Organizers and school administration agreed the option they presented was better than simply walking out and not actively engaging. Northeast Dubois High School Principal Tina Fawks said she thinks fostering camaraderie and respect of others despite differences is more impactful than leaving the building.

“It feels good here today,” she said in a phone interview this morning. “You really can just feel the positivity. I think what we’re doing is working.”

At Southridge High School, roughly a third of the school body walked into the gymnasium at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes. During that time, according to Southridge High School Principal Chad Sickbert, student speakers remembered lives lost in recent school shootings, discussed gun control and acknowledged the importance of developing an informed opinion and acting on it. The Herald visited Southridge just before the event but was told outside media could not attend.

Sickbert said a group of students approached him and worked with the administration to plan the event. He said the primary concern was student safety, which is why the kids gathered in the gym and not outside the building.

He said giving the kids a platform to share their voices is important and described the gathering as a teachable moment.

“No matter how your beliefs fall on the issue, what’s important to me is that students are engaged and know what’s going on in their community,” he said, adding that knowing how to respectfully express thoughts with others who have different viewpoints is also valuable.

Requests to Forest Park High School Principal Jamie Pund to discuss how the school was handling the national walkout were not returned. Students at Jasper High School participated in an e-learning day today and were not required to attend class in the building.

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