The old brass school bell tolled 17 times Thursday morning as more than 70 Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School students and some faculty faced State Road in West Tisbury to remember the students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who died in a mass shooting on Feb. 14.
Organizer and Charter School senior Keith Chatinover rang the bell 17 times at one-minute intervals. At each toll, one of his classmates climbed the snowbank on the sidewalk and displayed a handcrafted sign reading “One of Us.” The memorial was otherwise silent, a time for reflection and for feeling.
The event, one of more than 31,000 events at schools nationwide, was called a walkout, but that term does not begin to describe the response that Parkland has evoked in young people here, across the country, and worldwide, as students in the U.S. and Europe held similar 17-minute ceremonies.
Students on Martha’s Vineyard had planned to walk out Wednesday, but with school postponed because of the blizzard, they regrouped and held the events Thursday.
The school bell’s wooden handle is worn smooth from calling generations of kids to their classrooms. When it was new and shiny, no one could have imagined it would toll in West Tisbury on Thursday for children killed in a school 1,800 miles away.
Keith and his schoolmates testified to their commitment to ending school violence and support for a student-led national school safety movement now getting legs and growing.
“Environmental issues were always my priority. Until Parkland happened,” Keith said after the commemoration. “Now gun violence is my priority. I didn’t know high school kids could be so forceful, so powerful. I am so proud to be a part of this today. The [Charter School] kids were wonderful.”
In addition to the Thursday event, Keith has organized a two-bus Island caravan to Washington, D.C., for a national “March for Our Lives” on March 24, which is expected to draw a half-million people. “We have 110 seats available, and there are a dozen or so left,” he said.
“We want to fill the bus. Interested people can contact me at email@example.com — either to go or to donate so others can afford tickets,” he said.
MVRHS students walk out, too
Nearly 500 students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) walked out in solidarity to raise awareness against gun violence, the school’s second demonstration in a month since a gunman killed 17 people in a Florida high school.
At 10 am sharp, the students walked out of the front doors of MVRHS in droves, accompanied by teachers and staff. The students walked toward Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road and spread out along the bike path, crunching snow and chatting with classmates.
Students stood out in the cold for 17 minutes (one minute for each student and faculty member killed in the Parkland shooting), waving to cars that honked while driving by.
Senior Emily Hewson felt the walkout “is and isn’t” an effective way to bring about change. Hewson said the Island’s walkout shouldn’t be viewed by itself, but in coordination with every other participating high school across the country. “It’s not just us,” she said. “Most of us can’t vote, so it’s a good way to get out and show support.”
Fellow senior Gabe Bellebuono agreed. “It’s a big community … being out here shows support.”
Freshman Lohanna DeOliveira also felt the walkout was a great way to express unity with the Parkland students. “I feel like they need our support. That could happen to us,” she said.
While the walkout was organized entirely by students, teachers and school staff joined them outside in a show of solidarity.
“I think students are finding ways to get their voices heard,” Chris Connors, a programming and new-technology teacher, said. “I’m excited to see students fight the fight adults can’t seem to fight.”
Matt D’Andrea, superintendent of schools, attended the walkout as well, encouraging the student activism. “It’s a great way for them to express their views,” he said. “They’ve been appropriate and respectful. I’m glad they’ve taken the opportunity to show their views.”
Jillian Sedlier, the school’s resource officer, was impressed with the students at this walkout and the previous one, held in February. “The students have been very respectful, they did it all on their own,” she said. “It’s a good way for them to show awareness.”
West Tisbury School chimes in
West Tisbury School sixth, seventh, and eighth graders observed a 17-minute outdoor silence Thursday morning in remembrance of the Parkland tragedy, and, as student support and intervention coordinator Graham Houghton put it, to show that safe schools are imperative to them and “in solidarity with classmates across the country.”
With a handful of school staffers among them and under the watchful eye of West Tisbury Police Sgt. Skip Manter, the students lined up along the sidewalk in front of the school and braved a constant, biting wind.
“Honestly, I didn’t hear a peep from anybody the whole time,” Houghton said. “It was really amazing.”
Walkout organizer Sam Fetters, an eighth grader and member of the student council, told The Times he was very pleased with the students’ show of unity. “The message is, we stand with you. We agree with you. And we respect your opinions,” he said.
They did an extraordinary job — I look forward to commending them on the great job that they did,” Houghton said.
“In a way, by doing this, I was connecting with every single one of the people who died,” Fetters said. “Occasionally, when I was standing there, I would pat my hand on my knee — I would pat 17 times.”
Reporters Brian Dowd and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this report.