‘No buzz’ before Wy’east walkout

Wy'east Middle School students gathered in the courtyard during the nationwide March 14 student walkout.

Photo by Karen Heinemann
Wy'east Middle School students gathered in the courtyard during the nationwide March 14 student walkout.

While other Hood River County School District sites had advanced warning of a 17-minute student walkout on March 14, at Wy’east Middle School, there was “no buzz” in the days leading up to the event, said Principal Sarah Braman-Smith.

However, staff did have a plan in place, should a walkout occur. That preparation paid off when a few students came forward Tuesday after school, voicing an intention to demonstrate.

Braman-Smith offered the courtyard area, near the school’s Performing Arts Center, as a safe, supervised place to gather, and students spread the word via social media. In the end, approximately 200 participated in the walkout.

“Every single learner who participated was respectful, and responsibly reported to the courtyard,” she said.

Once outside, students seemed unsure what to do next — staff were there for supervision, not leadership. Then, a small group led their peers in the formation of a circle, and most linked arms or clasped hands as they stood in silence. When the 17-minute mark came, another group of students signaled that it was time to go back to class.

“The whole Wy’east community, every student and staff member here just handled it so respectfully and responsibly,” she said. “We couldn’t ask for more.

“It took the whole community,” she added. “An event like that can cause divisiveness. But we saw students accepting students with opposing points of view. We saw a very welcoming environment.”

Braman-Smith and Vice Principal Patricia Ortega-Cooper sent a letter to parents Wednesday afternoon detailing the events leading up to the walkout.

It read, in part, “We generally support our students’ collective voice and passion for issues that matter to them, but we cannot promote, participate in or organize a student walkout with political action as its aim during the work day. Here at Wy’east, we informed staff and listened proactively to learn about students planning to participate in the protest …

“An important aspect of an excellent formal education is helping our children learn how to appropriately express their views, to advocate, to persist, and to make meaning of multiple perspectives — especially around difficult topics. We generally support our students’ actions to peacefully gather during school hours to express their views. Towards ensuring student safety and a focus on learning while at school, we prepared for the potential that students will participate by … focusing some morning instructional time on school safety issues related to school-wide positive behavior expectations, bullying, community building, and reporting unsafe situations; and assuring appropriate supervision for all students regardless of whether they participate in a walkout or not.”

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