Burr and Burton Academy campus falls silent for shooting victims

Students from Burr and Burton Academy take part in the #NationalSchoolWalkout movement. They stood silently for seventeen minutes holding signs in honor of the 17 students killed in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
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MANCHESTER — More than 300 students at Burr and Burton Academy had to wait a few days longer than expected, but in the end their walkout Monday lived up to, or even exceeded, expectations.

Filing out of the Seminary Building, the students walked in silence, eventually filling out the sidewalk from Franklin Avenue to the Riley Center. For 17 minutes, the students stood in complete silence. Some held signs, ranging from funny, such as "More pizza, less guns," to serious, such as the stark white-on-black sign that simply read, "We shouldn't be afraid at school." At precisely 10:17 a.m., the student at the front of the line began the walk back to campus, with the others trailing behind. Still, hardly a word was spoken.

"It was pretty powerful," said Assistant Head of School Meg Kenny, who had watched the march with other faculty members from atop a hill near the Seminary Building. "I was really blown away. To see the students walk out, stand for 17 minutes and then walk back continuing that silence,

really hit home for me."

She said she was proud of how all the students handled themselves, including the students who chose not to participate, which she estimated was about half the campus.

The walkout had been scheduled for March 14, in tandem with the #Enough protests taking place around the country, but a snow day put those plans on hold.

The walk was instead held on Monday morning. Several community members came out to offer their support to the students.

The #Enough National School Walkouts, coordinated by the organization Women's March and student and advocacy groups around the country, took place for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. local time last Wednesday. The 17 minutes were chosen to represent the 17 victims of last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In keeping with their original plans, the students at Burr and Burton began their march at 10 a.m.

The walkouts were organized by a group of students including Cece Szkutak, Katie Liell, and Tyler Jager. Szkutak said that the plans grew out of a meeting between about 70 BBA students following the Parkland shooting. "We were inspired by the students at Parkland," she said. "They're the same age as us, and that could have been us talking about something that happened at our school."

She said they had considered having speeches after a moment of silence, as was done at many other schools, but decided that the silence would be a better way to show the unity of that portion of the student body.

"We wanted to show that we were literally done talking about this issue," said Jager. He said that among the students that walked out, there was a vast array of different ideas about gun control and school safety, but that almost everyone agreed that the lack of action from legislators has been unacceptable. He said that students are paying attention to bills moving through the Vermont legislature more than he's ever seen.

Kenny said that any students who chose to participate in the walkouts will not be disciplined for doing so. She said that students who chose not to participate were given alternative activities by their teachers. She said that she had asked the student organizers to provide her with three things before they walked out of class: written goals and a plan, to make the march as inclusive as possible, and to recognize the importance of making sure all students are safe and accounted for during the walkout.

Jager said that, in standing up for their beliefs, both sides showed bravery.

Szkutak said that a group of 76 BBA students will be traveling to Washington D.C. this weekend to participate in the March for Our Lives, thanks to a generous donation from a group of alumni. One of those alumni, Andrew Boyer of the Class of 2001, wrote in a letter to the Banner, "Every so often life presents us with a rare critical moment. It is our action or lack of action during these critical moments that defines us. History classes teach about the civil rights, gender equality and LGBT rights movements. But this time it's all of our students. Years from now, history classes at Burr and Burton and other schools across the country will be teaching about this movement. History will judge us by our actions. Our students are leading the way and it's time that we follow and support them."

Szkutak said that she attended the Women's March in D.C. last year, and was excited to have another opportunity to hear perspectives from other people around the country. For Jager, the experience will be a new one. "I'm really excited for this, my first D.C. march," he said.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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