LOUISVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – Middle school students make up some of the youngest voices speaking out against gun violence.
Boys and girls as young as 11 years old joined the national student walkout one month since a deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida to add their perspective to the conversation happening across the country.
“I think that 13 is old enough to have an opinion and a voice in the world,” said Samantha Diener, an eighth grade student at Louisville Middle School. “We know what we’re doing.”
More than 400 students at that school walked out early on Wednesday morning to show their solidarity with the teenagers taking action in the weeks since the shooting in Florida which killed 17 people. The thought of that happening at their school was not lost on these students.
“Schools are a place for learning and a place that is supposed to be safe and accepting,” said Rachel Hart, 13, another 8th grade student. “It’s really hard to do that when there’s a constant fear.”
The walkout lasted less than an hour with students leaving the campus just before 10 a.m. and walking along Main Street before turning around and heading back to the middle school.
Parents, teachers, and staff were there along with them to make sure there weren’t any problems while they were out of classrooms.
“It’s a formidable age. It’s time that they’re learning to speak out and speak up for what they value and what they care about in the world,” said Tamara Helm, the parent of two students at the school. “I wish the world wasn’t like that, but there is nothing I can do to control the whole world.”
Helm and other parents discussed the issue with their kids in the days leading up to this walkout. They made signs the Saturday before and will likely talk about the event when families are together again after school.
Parents say they cannot keep topics like this away from students even as young as 11 because they see what is happening across the country and worry about another shooting.
“One of my friend’s younger siblings, who is about five, refused to wear her light up Sketchers to school anymore because she thought if there was a school shooter, the shooter would see her,” said Keira Bond, 13, an 8th grade student.
Bond says that reaction from a child motivated her to organize the walkout with others at her school. The administration and the district were supportive of the event, asking parents to fill out online permission slips allowing their children to be involved.
Staff never took a position on any issues, but encouraged their students to get involved and take action.
“I’m incredibly proud of our kids. We do a lot of work trying to help kids learn to think, not what to think,” said Ginny Vidulich, the principal at Louisville Middle School. “The idea that they have studied the Constitution, they know what their rights are, they are aware.”
Vidulich says while the majority of students participated in the walkout, some did not. She was pleased to see that they considered the views of others while walking and appreciated the different perspectives on this issue.
“What you probably didn’t see was how much time they spent thinking about the kids that didn’t walk out and to make sure that their opinions are respected and they are respected,” she said.
Those who did walk were clear on their beliefs about what can stop the violence and prevent another shooting. Several of them suggested banning assault-style rifles, increasing the waiting period for purchasing a gun, or requiring a background check.
“I’m not suggesting we ban all guns,” said Bond. “We just need stricter gun controls. We need it so not everyone can go to a department store and buy a gun.”
While many have been moved by the articulate voices to come from this generation, others have questioned if they fully understand the issue and how to find a practical solution.
Middle school students face even more scrutiny because some are barely beginning their teenage years.
“It’s sick and twisted that people are just getting murdered outside,” said Ainsley Coogan, 11, a 6th grade student. “If nobody is going to take a stand, then I just felt like I should.”
These students at Louisville Middle School say, even in their own building, they worry about what could happen. It is part of the motivation that makes them want to speak out and see changes in current policies.
“It is a very safe school, but there is always some fear even at our school,” said Hart.
“In some ways yes, in other ways no. I think there is just, always in back of our head, there’s a little bit of fear,” added Diener.
But as the newest members of the ongoing conversation with the freshest perspective on what it is like to be in school, they say their age in an advantage in getting the attention needed to achieve the goals of all in this movement.
“I think it can be even more powerful when a kid talks about worldly issues,” said Ila McKena, 13, another 8th grade student. “Then the adults realize ‘Wow, the kids are having problems with this, maybe we should get a jump on this.'”