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Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center holds walkout in solidarity with GRPS, to promote safe community

We had parents and board members that were interested in supporting through participation. We also had many students who wanted to be involved, especially those with older siblings in GRPS schools, said Principal Lisa Heyne.
Nigel Doyle and Loki Ewigleben walk with their sign

Nigel Doyle and Loki Ewigleben walk with their sign /Audrey Mahlie

Students silently circle the school one time

Students silently circle the school one time /Audrey Mahlie

Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center (GRCDC) is a K – 5 elementary school in downtown Grand Rapids. GRCDC is a charter school with Grand Rapids Public Schools as the charter authorizer. This means they can make decisions as an autonomous entity and did not have to participate in the GRPS walkout. They decided to participate, however, in solidarity with GRPS and because, “We had parents and board members that were interested in supporting through participation. We also had many students who wanted to be involved, especially those with older siblings in GRPS schools,” said Principal Lisa Heyne.

The first 40 minutes were dedicated to students being allowed to speak to the entire school about “community.” Children shared poems, posters and thoughts related to what community is and how to keep a community safe. When asked why guns were not explicitly discussed, Ms. Heyne said, “Our students range in age from ages 5 to 11 years old. Because of that, many of our children have not heard of the murders in Parkland, know little about gun violence and gun control, and many don't know about school shootings - particularly our kids in Kindergarten and 1st grade - but also many in grades 2-5 as well. Because of that, we idenitfied the theme A Connected Community is a Safe Community - each class decided how to interpret that theme and what they wanted to offer to the school community during a community meeting before our walk out. This allows us to emphasize values important to our school - connection, kindness, and love while still ensuring that students, families, and staff are talking about how to stay safe. This seemed both age and developmentally appropriate overall, while allowing individual classes to wrestle with themes that were coming up for them.”

The walkout consisted of students walking one time around the school without talking. Most students seemed to take this seriously, looking ahead or at the ground and not speaking. Many cars passing by honked in support. Before going outside, Ms. Heyne noted, “…one of those actions that has been historically meaningful is to walk or march together around an idea that matters. So for us to take this walk together as one school, and with many of our families, is a way of publically showing that we care about being a safe community and we care about being a connected community.”

While guns were not mentioned during the school meeting, it is clear that many of these kids are having these conversations at home. Tiffany Ewigleben was one parent who attended the walkout with her fifth grade son, Loki. She said, “Having my son participate in the National Walkout today was just part of a larger discussion we continuously have in our home around gun control, activism, and the power of our voices -- especially his voice. Though GRCDC chose to participate in the walkout as a whole school, my son was aware of and made an independent choice to walk.”

When asked why she was participating in the march, Cosette Mahlie, a middle school student who had come to march with her siblings said, “To protest against school shootings and carrying guns, and remembering the 17 kids that just died in a school shooting.” Her brother Theodore, a third grade student, added, “We don’t want people to just carry around guns all over the place. That also could be dangerous.” Carlie Jenkins, a fifth grader, said, “It’s important to make sure people feel safe at school.”

When asked why they participated in the march, JP DeBlaay, a fifth grader, said, "To me it felt like we were doing the right things for a good purpose. With the school shooting we were trying to show that we are not afraid that anyone is going to tell us to stand down. We are taking a stand for our rights." Fourth grader Jonas Heyne said, “Even if people weren't there to witness it, I feel like we were helping others by protesting because we were showing people that we care. We aren't just going to sit inside and do a writing prompt. That's why we made signs and went outside to stand up for what is right."

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