National School Walkout: Clayton middle schoolers become activists

Credit: Mitch Northam

Credit: Mitch Northam

Mundy’s Mill Middle School is a small school in Jonesboro with an enrollment of less than 800 students.

And those students were fired up to participate in a nationwide protest. Just before 10 a.m., the students stopped whatever they were doing, grabbed their signs and headed outside to participate in National School Walkout Day.

Like other students across metro Atlanta, the Clayton County students took time to honor the 17 slain victims of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, while also advocating for stronger gun laws.

At some schools, teachers and faculty members discouraged protestors and threatened punishment. But at Mundy’s Mill, the staff was more than encouraging, and gave the students the tools to exercise their First Amendment rights.

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"We wanted to use this as a teaching moment," said Sharra Cunningham, the school’s principal.

Cunningham said this was a “student-driven” protest, and the 6th, 7th and 8th graders came to her and the staff with their ideas on what to do for the national day of protest.

Because it was a chilly 38 degrees in Jonesboro on Wednesday, the students opted to walkout just briefly around 10 a.m., marching one lap in front of the school before taking their protest into the school’s gym.

Cunningham said all students were given time in social studies classes over the past few days to construct protest posters and signs.

“This didn’t just happen overnight,” she said. “This is their reality. Most of the students were enthusiastic about this and wanted to voice their feelings. (The faculty) has just been here to facilitate.”

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Jaylen Scott, an 8th-grader, said the teachers provided videos and other information to help the students.

“Today was about making a point to ourselves, the teachers, the other students, that violence and gun violence isn’t the only way to solve things. There’s a better way,” 7th grader Dehawnn Phillips said. “The teachers didn’t tell us what to do, but they gave us the tools and told us how to do it. Sort of a guideline. From there, it was up to us.”

Inside the gym were 17 backpacks and laptop bags laid out on the floor to represent the 17 Florida victims.

Once everyone was gathered in the gym, a staff member spoke briefly to quiet the room, clearing the way for eight students to speak from a podium. Faculty members stood along the gym’s walls as students in the bleachers held up their signs.

"The Second Amendment is up for debate again. No community should have to endure such a tragedy,” 6th grader Rebecca Bordeau said. “Stoneman Douglas high schoolers shouldn't be mourning, they should be getting ready for prom and graduation filled with happy memories for the yearbook, not memorials.”

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Some students made speeches while others read poems. All had the same themes of rallying against gun violence. They talked about Sandy Hook, Columbine, the NRA and President Donald Trump.

The walls of the school were covered with other student-made signs that discourage bullying, which helps cover some of the cracks in the school’s walls that are more than four decades old.

Mundy’s Mill Middle was built in 1974, but what was clear Wednesday is that it’s students aren’t living in the past.

Said Bordeau: “Our message is, we don't want our school to be next."