At 9:55 a.m. Wednesday, students began entering the hallways of Denbigh High School.
No bell or announcement cued them.
They made their way toward the back of campus, near the tennis courts, and congregated in the cold. As participants in the National School Walkout, which officially was observed at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, they filled out cards pledging not to use guns for violence and signed a banner to send to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
It was there a month ago that 17 students and staff members were killed in a school shooting, an event which fueled national and local conversations about students’ safety in schools.
The walkout was held to “demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship,” according to its website.
“Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school. Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day.”
Denbigh students and organizers in the school’s Teens Against Violence club echoed those same sentiments through a makeshift soapbox and microphone.
“We’re here for the students that lost their lives at Stoneman Douglas High School,” said Alayna Sepulveda, a sophomore and member of Teens Against Violence. “We want to remember them, to support the survivors, too, and we also want to support other schools that have been affected by this violence.
“We want to give students the information they need to get involved, give them the names of representatives and meetings that they can attend and if they’re old enough to vote, so they register to do that, and we find that very important to give the opportunity to do.”
Ahmadzobair Wali, 18, is from Afghanistan, and has been in the United States for about eight months. He said that while he feels safer here than he did in his home country, he knows the horrors of violence and losing loved ones and family members.
“We’re all humans,” Wali, a junior, said after he spoke to the crowd. “We might have different language, we might have different color, we might have different way of behavior, we might have different cultures, but we all have the same notion that we are humans and we have to help each other.”
Somewhere between 800 and 900 of Denbigh’s 1,352 students participated, principal Eleanor Blowe estimated.
Woodside High School students participated by leaving the school, carrying signs and chanting “Enough is Enough,” one of the slogans for the national walkout. About 1,200 of the school’s 1,900 students participated.
In Poquoson, about 100 students walked out of the middle school at 10 a.m. and stood on the 17-yardline on the football field, while another 60 high schoolers left the building to observe the walkout.
A rock painted with the Stoneman Douglas eagle mascot and 17 ribbons stands in front of the high school.
Both schools have planned discussions about kindness throughout the day, and the high school is observing 17 17-second moments of silence in honor of the Parkland victims.
Check back to dailypress.com or read Thursday’s Daily Press for more coverage of this story from across the region.
Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951 or on Twitter @byjanehammond.